WASHINGTON — The United States conducted airstrikes against al-Qaida members in Yemen on the first three days of President Donald Trump's administration, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
The drone strikes occurred Jan. 20, 21 and 22 in the Bayda province of southwestern Yemen and killed five suspected terrorists with al-Qaida's affiliation in the Arabian Peninsula region, according to a U.S. Central Command statement. Al-Qaida has taken advantage of civil war across Yemen since 2015 to gain territory where they've plotted terrorist attacks on Western targets, according to Pentagon officials.
"Strikes against al-Qaida operatives in Yemen put consistent pressure on the terrorist network and prevent them from plotting and executing attacks against the [United States] and our allies," said Army Maj. Josh T. Jacques, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. "Al-Qaida remains a significant threat to the region, the United States, and beyond."
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. military regularly carried out drone strikes against al-Qaida targets in Yemen. In 2016, the United States dropped 34 bombs on targets in that country. In 2015, it dropped 58, according to Pentagon data.
The drone strikes in Yemen in the early days of Trump's administration could signal that he will continue to target al-Qaida's network there with unmanned aircraft.
The United States has launched at least four drone strikes in Yemen in 2017. Another drone struck on Jan. 8 in Bayda province killed Abd al-Ghani al-Rasas, who was described by the Pentagon as an al-Qaida "terrorist leader and facilitator."
The civil war in Yemen between the UN-recognized government, which is backed by U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels continues to rage, with the rebel group controlling the capital city of Sanaa.
Government forces this week gained control of the strategic port city of Mokha, according to The Associated Press, and are seeking to gain control of Yemen's western coast, which would cut off the Houthi's access to the outside world.
The U.S. military has, at times, provided some support to the Yemeni government, including deploying a small group of special operators there last year to provide medical and intelligence support to United Arab Emirates forces fighting the Houthis.