US ground & air raid kills 7 Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen

US ground & air raid kills 7 Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen
Seven Al-Qaeda militants have been killed during a US counterterrorism operation in Yemen, according to US Central Command. The operation used small arms fire and precision airstrikes to target one of the group’s compounds.

The operation took place in the early hours of Tuesday against a compound associated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Marib Governorate, according to a statement by US Central Command. 

The statement says that seven AQAP militants were killed "through a combination of small arms fire and precision airstrikes."

"Raids such as this provide insight into AQAP's disposition, capabilities and intentions, which will allow us to continue to pursue, disrupt, and degrade AQAP," the statement reads.

It goes on to note that the operation was conducted with the support of the Royal Government of Yemen.

According to Yemeni officials cited by AP, the operation took place in the al-Sirim area of Marib Governorate. Tribal members said explosions were heard in the neighborhood, followed by helicopters and gunfire.

The helicopters reportedly landed in the outskirts of the town of Jouba, near al-Sirim, which is a known Al-Qaeda hideout. The town has been targeted by a series of airstrikes over the past month, with six militants reportedly killed.

Officials and tribesmen also told AP that there was a separate bombing in nearby Bayda province, but did not elaborate on details or possible casualties.

The Tuesday morning operation is the second known US ground deployment in Yemen against Al-Qaeda militants this year. A raid in January which killed 25 civilians, including women and children, sparked outrage in the country. 

The US military said 14 Al-Qaeda militants were killed in the attack, and that Washington gained "information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots."

However, defense officials told NBC News in February that the deadly raid had yielded no significant intelligence. 

In addition, it emerged that a video posted on the Pentagon's website which claimed to show "important intelligence" footage obtained during the raid had been available online for a decade. The Pentagon later removed the video from its site. 

Later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said that multiple US troops had been injured during the operation. He added, however, that none of the injuries were serious enough to require medical evacuation.

The Tuesday raid comes as the US steps up its airstrikes in Yemen, launching more than 75 since the beginning of the year.

Al-Qaeda has been taking advantage of Yemen's civil war following the Saudi-led campaign, in order to grow and expand its controlled territory.

The raid marked the first time US forces have conducted such an operation in Marib governorate and the “deepest” US forces have traveled into Yemen to fight Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Navy Captain Jeff Davis said in a Pentagon news release.

Davis described the location as a “headquarters” for AQAP, where militants have been planning their external operation and leading the group. He said the objective of the raid was to “disrupt AQAP operations.”

"Raids such as this provide insight into AQAP's disposition, capabilities and intentions, which will allow us to continue to pursue, disrupt, and degrade AQAP,” Davis said. 

The military claims no civilian casualties were reported and state that “based on observations on the ground and in the sky, there are no credible indications of such casualties.”

However, human rights group Reprieve cites witnesses from the village in Marib who claim that US forces killed five civilians and two Al-Qaeda fighters during the raid. Reprieve lists the names of the five civilians and states that none of them were fighting with Al-Qaeda.

Kate Higham, Head of the Assassinations Programme at Reprieve, called on President Donald Trump to launch an investigation into the raid and “halt all raids and drone strikes before more innocent Yeminis are killed.”