Yemeni officials: U.S. drone strikes kill at least nine suspected al Qaeda militants
Houthi militias are battling al Qaeda-linked group for territory in Yemen
More than 400 people have died in clashes between the two groups in the past month
The Houthis are trying to expand their reach after taking control of the capital, Sanaa
U.S. drone strikes killed at least nine suspected members of al Qaeda in Yemen, where clashes intensified Tuesday between the terrorist group and Shia Houthi rebels, local security officials said.
The three airstrikes in Yemen’s Al Baitha province, near Radaa district, targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula vehicles on their way to fight Houthis, the three security officials said.
The air component came amid fighting on the ground in the province that, according to the officials, killed at least 36 fighters from both sides.
Over the years, the Yemeni military, aided by American drone strikes, has failed to beat back AQAP. Yet the Houthis, a militant group that follows the Zaidi sect of Islam, have managed to defeat al Qaeda on numerous fronts, last week sweeping its militants from a stronghold in Al Baitha province.
This push spurred AQAP to threaten to kill Houthi followers wherever they are spotted.
More than 400 people have been killed from both sides over the past month in ongoing clashes in Al Baitha and Ibb provinces.
While Houthis have been critical of U.S. drone strikes in the past, they have not objected to their use in the last month.
The Houthis swept to power in Yemen after signing a ceasefire deal with the government in September, ending a political crisis that had halted life in Sanaa and left more than 300 dead in a month.
Since 2012, Houthis have exploited Yemen’s political vacuum to assert their own regional pull over the country’s highlands while expanding their political traction by establishing Ansar Allah, their new political group.
On Saturday, the Interior Ministry confirmed that al Qaeda attacked a government military facility and killed 19 soldiers in the port province of Hodeida.
One day later, Houthis sent dozens of fighters there and forced al Qaeda to retreat.
Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for eight attacks against Houthis across Yemen in the past three weeks through its official Twitter account.
After taking control of Sanaa, hundreds of Houthi fighters created checkpoints inside and surrounding the Yemeni capital. They have also expanded their reach into most northern Yemeni provinces.
But Houthis are finding it more difficult to crush al Qaeda in Al Baitha, considered one of the network’s main strongholds in central Yemen.
“Houthis are used to military clashes, while al Qaeda uses guerrilla tactics against its enemies. They hit and run unexpectedly,” said AbdulSalam Mohammed, president of the Sanaa-based Abaad Strategic Center.
“Rules of war are different when fighting al Qaeda,” he said.
The Houthis have long complained that they have been marginalized and persecuted by Yemen’s Sunni majority, and have been involved in a series of rebellions since 2004, justifying their actions by claiming self-defense. They are organized under the leadership of Abdel Malek al Houthi.
Adding to an increasingly volatile situation, a secessionist movement in the south of Yemen, al Hirak, has stepped up protests in Aden, Yemen’s chief port and the largest city in the south.