WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least seven militants were killed during a raid by U.S. Special Forces troops against an al Qaeda compound in Yemen on Tuesday morning, the Pentagon said, the deepest the United States has penetrated Yemen to target the group.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters in Washington that multiple U.S. troops were injured, but not serious enough to require medical evacuation.
Davis said it was also the first raid in the Marib governorate and an AC-130 gunship was called in after a firefight broke out.
“The intent of this raid was to disrupt AQAP operations,” Davis said, using an acronym for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Local tribesmen confirmed a raid in Marib, which is controlled by forces loyal to the Western-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but said five people were killed and six others were wounded, all from the same extended family.
It was the latest operation by U.S. forces against the Yemen-based AQAP, which has exploited a two-year-old civil war between the Iran-aligned Houthi and Hadi’s Saudi-backed government to enhance its influence in the impoverished country.
U.S. Central Command said in a statement the AQAP militants were killed “through a combination of small-arms fire and precision air strikes” in Marib, with the support of the Yemeni government.
“Raids such as this provide insight into AQAP’s disposition, capabilities and intentions, which will allow us to continue to pursue, disrupt, and degrade AQAP,” the statement said.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters separately that the raid was carried out 40-45 km (25-30 miles) north of another U.S. raid that took place in late January.
Two sources in Marib said that the attack began with drone strikes at a house in the southern Marib governorate near the border with the al-Bayda governorate, followed by automatic fire from low-flying helicopters.
They said that five members of their al-Moradi clan, a main tribe in Marib, had died in the operation and six others were wounded, adding that they were all civilians.
Davis said at this point there was no credible indication that there were civilian casualties in the raid.
The operation was the first ground raid in Yemen since the operation in January, which was hailed as a success by the White House and other U.S. officials.
However, critics questioned the value of the mission after a U.S. Navy Seal was killed. Women and children, as well as several militants, were also killed.
The U.S. military has carried out more than 80 strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda militants since February.
The group boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and AQAP has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government since an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by David Evans and Grant McCool