Two suspected US drone strikes have killed 11 al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, military officials in the country say.
The first of the two Saturday attacks took place near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces southeast of the capital, Sana’a, killing six militants, including one Egyptian national, the Yemeni officials said. The second strike hit two cars in Marib, killing five al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
Over the past year, parts of Marib, Shabwa and other southern provinces have fallen under the control of al-Qaeda militants who have capitalized on the turmoil in Yemen that stems from the popular uprising that toppled longtime Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
There was no immediate word from the US on whether Washington was behind Saturday’s attacks. In the past two weeks, suspected US airstrikes have killed at least three senior al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen.
Yemeni officials have reported more frequent US drone strikes since Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi took power in February after Saleh stepped down. Hadi has since ramped up the fight against al-Qaeda militants.
The Pentagon recently sent US military trainers to Yemen, and Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help the impoverished Arab nation fight al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in the country.
The US says al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is one of the group’s most dangerous offshoots.
Yemen was the launching pad for two foiled al-Qaeda attacks on US territory: the Christmas 2009 attempt to down a US airliner over Detroit with an underwear bomb and the sending of printer cartridges packed with explosives to Chicago-area synagogues in 2010.
On Monday, the CIA disclosed it had thwarted yet another plot by AQAP to destroy a US-bound airliner using a bomb that could have been undetectable by conventional airport scanners.
Separately, Yemeni military officials said an assault by government troops on Saturday on al-Qaeda forces around the southern city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan Province, left a general, a soldier and six militants dead.
The attack was part of the Yemeni military’s broader campaign against al-Qaeda-linked fighters in the south. Residents say the military used warplanes and artillery to pound areas west and north of Zinjibar.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.