Report: US drone strikes expand into northern Yemen, killing three al Qaeda suspects

The two Saudis were allegedly donors to the Yemen cell, known as a Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said Sheikh Fares Manaa, governor of the province where the attacks took place.

Omar Saleh al-Tiss, a local AQAP commander, was also wounded in Sunday's drone strikes, Manaa told AFP.

Until the Wadi al-Abu Jabara airstrike, the majority of U.S. drone strikes had been focused on AQAP bases in southern part of the country.

Yemeni forces have been waging a violent counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda bastions in the south since May.

U.S. intelligence and military officials have been launching drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen since 2009, after a failed plot to blow up a commercial airliner in American airspace was tied to the al Qaeda faction in Yemen.

The extension of American drone strikes into northern Yemen comes as U.S. intelligence officials are quietly escalating counterterrorism operations in the country.

A 20-man force of U.S. special operations force is already on the ground in Yemen, providing satellite imagery, drone video, eavesdropping systems and other technical means to point out suspected al Qaeda targets to U.S. and Yemeni forces, according to news reports.

Earlier this month, CIA requested an expansion of its drone fleet in the region to take out al Qaeda cells in Yemen, Pakistan and northern Africa, according to reports in The Washington Post.

The request for 10 additional unmanned aircraft, which would likely be based at the U.S. military outpost in Djibouti, would bring the agency's fleet up to 30 to 35 drones in Africa.

Last Friday, DOD press secretary George Little denied reports that the Pentagon was looking to expand its presence in Africa. But he did acknowledge that the department was expanding its Djibouti facility, which is home to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

The task force is home to a number of U.S. drones and F-15 fighter jets, Little said at the time. He maintained those assets, as well as U.S. forces with the task force, are being used "in helping build partnership capacity in Africa."

The Pentagon is currently pursuing congressional support for a new $75-million counterterrorism package for Yemen.