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U.S. Enters Yemen Fray, Kills 10 Al-Qaeda Jihadis in Airstrikes

The United States has carried out four airstrikes in recent weeks against a resurgent al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, killing 10 jihadists and injuring one, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

On May 6, U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of military operations in the Middle East, announced the American military airstrikes targeting members of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which took place between April 23 and April 28.

Three days after CENTCOM made the announcement, the Arab coalition backing forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally-recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said the Saudi military had intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their allies.

AQAP, considered the most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate, has benefitted from the security and political chaos in Yemen, seizing large swathes of territory and growing stronger than ever, as armed groups who support the country’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Shiite Houthis fight against a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition and military units loyal to President Hadi.

“[Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] remains a significant threat to the region, the United States and beyond,” said unnamed CENTCOM officials in a statement announcing the strikes. “Al-Qaida’s presence has a destabilizing effect on Yemen, and it is using the unrest in Yemen to provide a haven from which to plan future attacks against our allies as well as the U.S. and its interests.”

Deteriorating security conditions forced the U.S. to withdraw its military personnel out of Yemen in March 2015, as the Shiite Houthis rebels, which had seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa and at least nine of the country’s 21 provinces at the time, stepped up their offensive.

Nevertheless, the U.S. insisted that it had retained its capabilities to conduct counterterrorism operations in Yemen even after evacuating its troops out of the country and closing its embassy there.

Last week, a small contingent of U.S. forces returned to Yemen, where they remain, to provide a “liaison role, in particular in support of intelligence sharing” to Saudi-led coalition activities in the country, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters on Monday.

The United States will not capitulate on its mission to degrade, disrupt, and destroy AQAP and its remnants, the Centcom officials reportedly said in the statement, adding, “We remain committed to defeating [AQAP] and denying it safe haven regardless of its location.”

American military officials were quoted by a CENTCOM press release as saying that “U.S. strikes in Yemen continue to diminish al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s presence in the region.”

A United Nations-brokered truce agreement between the warring parties in Yemen began last month.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the missile launched from Yemen at Saudi Arabia on May 9 was the first to be reported fired since the ceasefire took effect ahead of U.N.-sponsored peace negotiations in Kuwait.

“The launch of the missile at this time is a dangerous escalation by Houthi militias” and the forces of ousted President Saleh, reportedly said the Saudi-led coalition in a statement.

It added that the Arab alliance is cooperating with the international community to “maintain calm and help the Kuwait (peace) talks to succeed.”

The missile was intercepted at dawn, noted the coalition, adding that the launcher inside Yemen was immediately destroyed.

Although it said it will continue to exert self-restraint, the coalition added that it also “reserves the right to retaliate at the appropriate time and place” in the event that its rivals attack.

The warring sides participating in the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait made no progress, reported Al Arabiya News Channel on Monday.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, “on Monday also urged the country’s warring parties to make concessions to save peace talks aimed at ending a devastating 13-month war,” notes AFP.

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing the Houthis and their allies in Yemen in late March 2015, as military units loyal President Hadi fought the rebels on the ground.

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