US drone strike, attacks kill 17 Al Qaida fighters in Yemen

US experts are assisting Yemeni army destroy Al Qaida's deadliest and most active branch

Air raids, including by US drones, and clashes in Yemen have killed at least 17 Al Qaida militants and a civilian, officials and tribesmen said on Monday.

Five militants of Al Qaida were killed when they were hit by a US drone on Monday, a tribal source said.

"A US drone struck a convoy carrying Al Qaida's leader in Bayda province, Qaed al-Dahab," the tribal source said on condition of anonymity, adding that "Dahab survived but five of his guards were killed."

The strike hit the militants as they were travelling in the area of Manaseh, east of the city of Radaa in central Yemen, he said.

Seven other militants, including the local military chief in Hadramawt, Saleh Abdul Khaleq, were killed in an air raid conducted by Yemeni warplanes in the eastern province, a security official said.

The raid struck the group as they met in a "deserted coastal area" some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of the city of Mukalla, the official said.

Western diplomats say that US experts are assisting the Yemeni army in their battle to destroy Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington to be the network's deadliest and most active branch.

In an interview with ABC television's "This Week," US defence secretary Leon Panetta defended the use of drones as "the most precise weapons we have" in the campaign against the militant group.

His comments marked the first time the US formally acknowledges the use of unmanned drones against al-Qaida suspects in Yemen.

Five other Al Qaida fighters and a civilian were killed in overnight clashes as Yemeni troops inched closer to capturing the city of Jaar, a bastion of the militant group in war-torn southern province of Abyan, a military official said.
 

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