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Seven al Qaeda militants killed in Special Forces raid in Yemen: U.S. military

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seven militants were killed during an intelligence-gathering raid by U.S. Special Forces troops against an al Qaeda compound in Yemen on Tuesday morning, U.S. officials said.

Local tribesmen confirmed a raid in the central Marib governorate, 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 Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (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 there were no known U.S. casualties and the raid was carried out 40-45 km (25-30 miles) north of another U.S. raid that took place in late January.

One of the U.S. officials said there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties in the raid, which was carried out by U.S. Special Forces troops.

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.

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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.

The January operation, the first of its kind authorised by U.S. President Donald Trump, 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 in the raid.

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 a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

The militant group has also taken advantage of a civil war pitting the Iran-aligned Houthis against the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to try to widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Sami Aboudi and David Evans