At least two killed in new drone strikes on al Qaeda in Yemen: residents

ADEN (Reuters) - Drones fired missiles at suspected al Qaeda targets in two separate attacks in Yemen on Saturday, local sources said, in what appeared to be a third successive day of U.S. strikes against militants in the Arab country.

Tribal sources and residents said one of the pilotless aircraft unleashed its missiles on a vehicle traveling on the outskirts of the southern city of Ahwar, killing two suspected al Qaeda members inside.

Another fired at a crowd of suspected al Qaeda militants in al-Saeed, in the adjacent province of Shabwa, but there were no reports on casualties in that incident.

Asked to comment, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the U.S. military had conducted additional strikes on Friday night and would provide more details on Monday.

On Friday the military said it had carried out over 30 strikes over the previous two days in three Yemeni provinces, and did not rule out conducting more.

The operations, using manned and unmanned aircraft, highlight the increasing U.S. military focus on a group that has gained in strength by exploiting the chaos of the country’s civil war.

Local Yemeni officials and residents have said that at least nine suspected al Qaeda members died in two separate drone strikes on Thursday.

U.S. military strategy in Yemen has become a hot political issue after a commando raid in January, authorized by President Donald Trump, resulted in the death of U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens.

Critics questioned the value of the mission, drawing a fierce rebuttal from Trump, who said it had yielded vital intelligence.

After pulling out of Yemen in 2015, the U.S. military started returning in small numbers last year to support a successful push orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates, with support from Saudi Arabia, that ejected al Qaeda from the city of Mukalla, where it had raised tens of millions of dollars by taking over the country’s third largest port.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf, writing by Sami Aboudi; additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan