SANAA, Yemen — An airstrike targeting suspected al-Qaida training camps in a rugged mountain region in southern Yemen killed a number of fighters Sunday, a high-level government security committee said, without specifying a casualty figure.
The Supreme Security Committee, which includes the defense and interior ministers, as well as the country’s intelligence chief, said the attack struck the rugged Mahfad mountains between Abyan and Shabwa provinces. But its statement did not identify who carried out the attack.
The U.S. regularly carries out drone strikes in Yemen against its local al-Qaida branch, which Washington considers the most active in the world.
The official news agency SABA quoted an unnamed official from the security committee who said those killed in the strike included foreigners and suspected leading figures in al-Qaida. It was not possible to independently verify a casualty figure because of the difficulties of getting to the remote area where the strike took place. The committee said the suspected al-Qaida members were plotting to target vital military and civilian installations, without elaborating.
This is the second strike targeting al-Qaida since Saturday, when a suspected U.S. drone strike in al-Bayda province in southern Yemen killed at least nine suspected al-Qaida militants and three civilians. The Supreme Committee said the airstrike was carried by Yemeni authorities.
The conflicting details of Saturday’s attack could not be immediately reconciled.
The U.S. considers Yemen’s branch of al-Qaida, also known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber’s underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.
It overran much of Yemen’s south in 2011. Yemen’s army, supported by U.S. military experts and drone strikes, has pushed them back, but clashes and al-Qaida attacks in Yemen continue.
However, civilian casualties in the strikes have sparked anger in the country and among human rights groups. According to the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation, the U.S. has launched more than 100 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002.
There was no immediate U.S. comment on the strike. The U.S. will acknowledge drone strikes carried out by its military, but typically not those done in CIA operations.
The recent strikes come after the return of Yemen’s defense minister and team of his commanders from the U.S. following a two-week visit.