WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is providing military support, intelligence, ships and special operations forces to help in the ongoing operations against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The U.S. military is helping Yemeni, Emirati and Arab Coalition forces that are battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and were recently able to retake the port city of Mukalla from AQAP control.
A senior U.S. official said that American special operations forces are advising the Yemeni and Emirati forces in the region, and that they are working at the headquarters level and are not near the conflict. The official was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. is providing “limited support” to the Arab Coalition and Yemeni operations in and around Mukalla. He said that includes planning, airborne surveillance, intelligence gathering, medical support, refueling and maritime interdiction.
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Davis declined to discuss whether or not special operations forces were in the country. But he said the U.S. has sent a number of ships to the region including the USS Boxer amphibious ready group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is embarked with the group. The USS Gravely and USS Gonzalez, both Navy destroyers, are also in the area.
“Trained and supported by an Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Yemeni government forces and resistance fighters have retaken Mukalla and continue their offensive against AQAP in eastern Yemen,” said Davis. “AQAP remains a significant security threat to the United States and to our regional partners and we welcome this effort to specifically remove AQAP from Mukalla and to degrade, disrupt and destroy AQAP in Yemen.”
Late last month forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government drove AQAP militants from Mukalla, a year after they captured it. Mukalla had been their stronghold.
Al-Qaida had gained ground amid the chaos that has reigned in Yemen since 2014 with Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels fighting the internationally backed government and its allies with the Saudi-led coalition.
Security officials and witnesses also said Thursday that al-Qaida militants in Yemen were pulling out of Zinjibar and Jaar, two coastal cities east of the key southern port of Aden, following tribal-led negotiations.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters while the witnesses requested anonymity out of safety concerns.
Associated Press writer Ahmed Al-Haj contributed to this report.