The first drone strikes under President Trump were carried out in central Yemen over the weekend, the Pentagon said Monday.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, armed U.S. drones attacked al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen at Al Bayda, a town about 175 miles southeast of Sanaa, the capital. The strikes killed five fighters, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, and they did not require approval by recently appointed Defense Secretary James Mattis or Trump. Davis did not say whether any civilians had been killed in the attacks.
U.S. aircraft also carried out bombing missions in Iraq and Syria in recent days in support of local forces attacking Mosul and advancing on the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.
The U.S. Central Command regularly discloses strikes in Yemen in reports that cover two or three weeks at a time. Nine strikes have been carried out in Yemen since October, according to recent releases. One strike earlier this month reportedly killed Abd al-Ghani al-Rasas, a senior leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen have slowly increased since the collapse of the country’s government in 2014 when Houthi rebels forced then-Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee. Houthi rebels have since battled for control of the country in a bloody civil war that has also allowed al-Qaeda militants to seize territory in Yemen’s south.
The United States maintains a small ground presence of Special Operations forces in Yemen that coordinates with troops from the United Arab Emirates who are fighting al-Qaeda, while another U.S. detachment provides limited intelligence to Saudi-led forces that are focused on defeating the Houthis. Since 2014, more than 10,000 people have died and 40,000 have been wounded in the civil conflict, according to a recent statement by the United Nations.