Multiple local language sources indicated that US airstrikes took place in Aqaba Za’aj, in Qayfa Radaa, Bayda province, during the night from March 2nd to March 3rd. There were no known reports of civilian harm.
Various sources reported that strikes took place in Aqaba Za’aj, seemingly in conjunction with strikes against the nearby locations of Novan, Jassima and Yakla, all of which are reportedly also within the Qayfa Radaa area. These sources suggested that US helicopters and drones bombarded militant sites until dawn on the Friday, though no information was available on the number of strikes or numbers of casualties, if any. Some suggested that an attempted US troop landing had taken place, and that five US Marines were killed after the claimed downing of an American helicopter.
Reuters reported that, though the Pentagon confirmed that a number of airstrikes had taken place on March 2nd-3rd, spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis had denied that US ground forces had been involved, telling reporters “I know there have been reports of firefights, raids, there have not been any that US forces have been involved in [on Friday]”.
This reported event took place amid a dramatic intensification of US operations against AQAP. On March 3rd, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davies announced that more than thirty strikes had been conducted since March 2nd in Yemen. On the same day, Associated Press reported that Yemeni officials and residents said that the US had conducted “dozens of airstrikes on al-Qaida targets in Yemen overnight and in the past 48 hours in one of the lengthiest, sustained operations inside this conflict-torn Arab country”.
A US military intelligence source told NBC News that the strikes beginning March 2nd were “part of ‘new directives’ to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans”.
The incident occured during the night.
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Reports of the incident mention the village of Aqaba Za’aj (عقبة زعج), allegedly within the Qifah (قيفه) area, for which, due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Qifah are: 14.449335, 44.817596
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
The U.S. military conducted precision strikes today in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to target the dangerous terrorist group that is intent on attacking the West, a Pentagon spokesman said.
With today's actions, the United States has carried out more than 30 strikes in Yemen since yesterday against the terrorist group, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.
"These counterterrorism strikes were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen," Davis said, adding, "U.S. forces will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization's plots and ultimately to protect American lives."
The results of the strikes are still being assessed, Davis said.
Aimed At Degrading Terrorist Capabilities
The aim of the strikes is to keep the pressure on the terrorists and deny them access and freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis said. "They've taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against the United States," he added. "We'll continue to work with the government of Yemen and our partners on the ground to defeat [the organization] and deny it the ability to operate."
The actions since have targeted militants, equipment and infrastructure in the governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah and will degrade the terrorist group's ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit its ability to use territory seized from Yemen’s legitimate government as a safe space for terror plotting, the captain said.
U.S. forces have not been involved in or near any firefights in Yemen since late January, Davis said. In that January operation, Navy Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
Extremely Dangerous al-Qaida Affiliate
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula remains an extremely dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, and is taking advantage of the chaos in the country from the civil war there, Davis said, noting that the organization “has more American blood on its hands" than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does.
Davis said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a "deadly terrorist organization that has proven itself to be very effective in targeting and killing Americans, and they have intent and aspirations to continue doing so."
The organization is integral to al-Qaida and remains intent on attacking Western targets, specifically the United States, a defense official said, speaking on background.
Total group strength in Yemen is in the "low thousands," the official said, adding that it remains a local and regional threat and directly contributes to the instability inside Yemen.
"This is a dangerous group locally, regionally and transnationally, to include against the United States, the West and our allies," the official said.
The terrorists have "skillfully exploited the disorder in Yemen to build its strength and reinvigorate its membership and training," the official said, noting that because members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula tend to be from Yemen, they can blend in with the tribes there.
There have been notable successes against the group, the official said, including killing some of its key leaders.
In other news, Davis updated reporters on progress in Iraq in liberating western Mosul from ISIS. Iraqi forces have cut across Highway 1, effectively isolating Mosul from the Syrian city of Raqqa, he said. Some areas in the north are still ISIS-controlled, he said, so Mosul is not completely severed from Raqqa.
"But in terms of having a road, that road is now cut," he said.