Report: US steps up strikes on militants in Yemen
The United States is using the power vacuum in Yemen to step up air attacks on Islamist militants, a media report said Wednesday.
The US has used drones and fighter jets in the strikes, The New York Times reported late Wednesday, citing unnamed US officials, DPA reported.
Yemen has seen mass protests for more than four months demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster after more than 30 years in power. The government has responded with a violent crackdown, reportedly killing more than 350 people.
Local troops fighting militants with al-Qaeda links in the south have been moved to the capital, Sana'a.
Saleh is in Saudi Arabia receiving treatment for injuries suffered in a rebel attack Friday on the presidential palace.
The report said US officials think the strikes would stop the Islamist fighters from consolidating their power.
"We've seen the regime move its assets away from counterterrorism and toward its own survival," said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "but as things get more and more chaotic in Yemen, the space for the Americans to operate in gets bigger."
US planes killed al-Qaeda militant Abu Ali al-Harithi and other members of the organization Friday in the south of the country in an attack that reportedly also killed four civilians. Several weeks previously, a US drone fired missiles at Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born radical cleric, but he survived.
The strikes followed a break of almost a year. They were stopped over worries about civilian deaths caused by poor intelligence.
The current regime in Yemen is a US ally. US military and intelligence operatives have a command post in Sana'a, used to gather intelligence on militants and plan strikes.
The US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, recently met opposition leaders to argue for continuing the strikes.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has reportedly tried to keep the scale of the US war in Yemen secret because of worries that public knowledge would undermine Saleh's fragile hold on power.