A U.S. drone killed four al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen on Thursday, a security official said, in the third such strike in five days as the Yemeni president prepared for White House talks.
Yemen’s U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAP) was expected to be high on the agenda of Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi’s talks with President Barack Obama later on Thursday.
Washington regards AQAP, a merger of militants in Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia, as the worldwide jihadist network’s most active and dangerous branch.
The latest drone strike came in the southeastern province of Hadramawt province, where AQAP militants have carried out a string of attacks on security personnel, the Yemeni security official told AFP.
The unmanned aircraft “raided an al-Qaeda vehicle in the Wadi Ser area destroying it and killing four militants,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It was the third deadly drone strike in five days to hit al-Qaeda in Yemen.
On Tuesday, a US drone killed three suspected militants in the southern province of Shabwa. On Saturday, a drone killed six suspected militants in the Mahfad mountains of neighboring Abyan province
The United States, the only country to operate drones in the region, has sharply increased its use of them against al-Qaeda targets in Yemen over the past two years.
U.S. drones strikes in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, from 18 to 53, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank.
The jihadists remain active in the south and east of Yemen despite an offensive by the army in summer 2012 that recaptured most of Abyan province’s main towns.
AQAP took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government during an uprising against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011 to seize large swathes of territory across the south and east.
Washington has given strong support to the efforts of Saleh’s successor, Hadi, to reassert central government control.
That support was to be high on the agenda of Hadi’s talks with Obama later on Thursday, along with the fate of the dozens of of Yemeni Al-Qaeda suspects still held at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama would seek to “further strengthen our counter-terrorism partnership, and enable the return of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay who have been designated for transfer,” the White House said.
Several key AQAP leaders have been killed in U.S. drone strikes, most recently the group’s deputy leader Saeed al-Shehri whose death was confirmed by the jihadists on July 17.
But, although weakened, AQAP still carries out frequent hit-and-run attacks against the Yemeni security forces.
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