US warplanes pounded Al Qaeda targets in Yemen for a second straight day on Friday, killing eight fighters, security and tribal sources said, as Washington steps up its air war against the militant outfit.
The Pentagon said the past two days had seen it carry out "somewhere over 30" strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), conducted in partnership with the Yemeni government.
"This is part of a plan to go after this very real threat and ensure that they are defeated and denied the opportunity to plot and carry out terrorist attacks from ungoverned spaces," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, noting America would continue to attack AQAP. "While we talk a lot about Daesh, AQAP is the organisation that has more American blood on its hands," he said.
The increased bombing comes a little more than a month after a botched American raid against AQAP left multiple civilians and a US Navy SEAL dead.
The January 29 raid was the first authorised by President Donald Trump, and he drew criticism after he blamed "the generals" for having "lost" Navy SEAL Ryan Owens.
The latest air strikes did not come as a result of intelligence gathered during the January raid, Davis said.
Also, despite ongoing efforts to target the group's leadership, the official said that AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi and its expert bombmaker Ibrahim bin Hassan al-Asiri are likely still alive.
Friday's attacks hit similar targets as on Thursday – including weapons caches, fighters and military equipment. According to Yemeni officials, at least 12 suspected militants were killed in Thursday's strikes.
US officials say Thursday's strikes were focused on the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan and the central province of Baida. As many as eight women and eight children were killed, a Baida provincial official said, drawing condemnation of the raid from human rights groups.
On Friday, US warplanes hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn, one of them the home of Al Qaeda's Shabwa province commander Saad Atef, tribal sources said.
Security officials in the area said eight suspected militants were killed, and tribal sources said that several women and children were also wounded.
That would bring the total militant death toll to at least 20 over the two days.
Militants retaliated with anti-aircraft fire, security officials and tribal sources said, adding that US helicopters took part in the operation. One resident said it had been a "terrifying night."
The US periodically sends small teams of commandos into Yemen, primarily to gather intel, but Davis said no Americans had been involved in any ground combat operations as part of the strikes.
This week's strikes were conducted through "manned and unmanned" means, and Davis did not deny that US ships in the region had also been involved.
Successive American administrations have kept up a drone war against Al Qaeda in Yemen since soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Washington regards the Yemen branch to be the militants' most dangerous, and holds it responsible for several plots to stage attacks in the West.
Al Qaeda has exploited a power vacuum, created by two years of war between Yemen's government and Shia rebels who control the capital, to consolidate its presence, particularly in the south and east.
AQAP has published 16 issues of an online magazine called "Inspire" urging individuals to attack the West.
The group has about 2,000 to 3,000 members, a US defence official said.
Drone strike in Pakistan
A suspected US drone strike killed two men on Thursday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, a local government official and a village elder said. It was not clear who was being targeted, the official said.
The missile struck two men riding a motorcycle in Pakistan's northern Kurram Agency, according to village elder Haji Zamin Hussain.
Kurram Agency is one of the country's seven semi-autonomous tribal areas and was known to be home to militants from both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as Al Qaeda.
Successive operations by the military has significantly reduced militant activity and influence in the tribal areas situated near the porous border with Afghanistan.
An unnamed Pakistani government official identified one of the men killed as Qari Abdullah Subari, a senior commander from the Afghan Taliban. A Pakistani intelligence source said the other man was also a Taliban member named Shakir.