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US ground troops helping Yemeni offensive against al Qaeda

US ground troops helping Yemeni offensive against al Qaeda
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A small number of U.S. forces on the ground are assisting an operation to clear an area in central Yemen of al Qaeda fighters.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told some reporters Friday that the United States is providing surveillance, aerial refueling, close air support and a small number of ground troops for a joint U.S.-United Arab Emirates operation to clear al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from its remaining pockets in central Yemen, according to multiple reports.

Asked for confirmation of Davis’s comments, another Pentagon spokeswoman said in an email to The Hill that she “can confirm we are supporting regional partners in ongoing operations in Yemen against AQAP to degrade the group’s ability to coordinate external terrorist operations and use Yemeni territory as a safe space for terror plotting.”

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The Pentagon’s acknowledgement comes after the United Arab Emirates' embassy in Washington announced the operation, including U.S. involvement.

The operation is being led by Yemeni forces, but “is being closely supported by a combined UAE and US enabling force,” according to a statement from the embassy attributed to Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba.

“The UAE is participating in this operation as part of a broader Arab coalition,” the statement said. “Today’s action continues the coalition’s sustained counterterrorism mission in Yemen against AQAP, in order to disrupt the terrorist organization’s network and degrade its ability to conduct future attacks.”

AQAP has long been described as the most dangerous of al Qaeda’s branches.

The U.S. military ramped up airstrikes against the group after President Trump gave the military expanded authority to conduct such strikes without high-level approval from the White House. Since February, U.S. forces have carried out more than 80 airstrikes against AQAP.

U.S. forces have also conducted at least two ground raids there during the Trump administration, including the controversial Jan. 29 raid that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens and a number of Yemeni civilians.