WASHINGTON, March 3, 2017 —
The U.S. military conducted precision strikes today in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to target the dangerous terrorist group that is intent on attacking the West, a Pentagon spokesman said.
With today's actions, the United States has carried out more than 30 strikes in Yemen since yesterday against the terrorist group, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.
"These counterterrorism strikes were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen," Davis said, adding, "U.S. forces will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization's plots and ultimately to protect American lives."
The results of the strikes are still being assessed, Davis said.
Aimed At Degrading Terrorist Capabilities
The aim of the strikes is to keep the pressure on the terrorists and deny them access and freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis said. "They've taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against the United States," he added. "We'll continue to work with the government of Yemen and our partners on the ground to defeat [the organization] and deny it the ability to operate."
The actions since have targeted militants, equipment and infrastructure in the governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah and will degrade the terrorist group's ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit its ability to use territory seized from Yemen’s legitimate government as a safe space for terror plotting, the captain said.
U.S. forces have not been involved in or near any firefights in Yemen since late January, Davis said. In that January operation, Navy Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
Extremely Dangerous al-Qaida Affiliate
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula remains an extremely dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, and is taking advantage of the chaos in the country from the civil war there, Davis said, noting that the organization “has more American blood on its hands" than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does.
Davis said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a "deadly terrorist organization that has proven itself to be very effective in targeting and killing Americans, and they have intent and aspirations to continue doing so."
The organization is integral to al-Qaida and remains intent on attacking Western targets, specifically the United States, a defense official said, speaking on background.
Total group strength in Yemen is in the "low thousands," the official said, adding that it remains a local and regional threat and directly contributes to the instability inside Yemen.
"This is a dangerous group locally, regionally and transnationally, to include against the United States, the West and our allies," the official said.
The terrorists have "skillfully exploited the disorder in Yemen to build its strength and reinvigorate its membership and training," the official said, noting that because members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula tend to be from Yemen, they can blend in with the tribes there.
There have been notable successes against the group, the official said, including killing some of its key leaders.
In other news, Davis updated reporters on progress in Iraq in liberating western Mosul from ISIS. Iraqi forces have cut across Highway 1, effectively isolating Mosul from the Syrian city of Raqqa, he said. Some areas in the north are still ISIS-controlled, he said, so Mosul is not completely severed from Raqqa.
"But in terms of having a road, that road is now cut," he said.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)