US ground troops in ‘major’ offensive against al-Qaeda in Yemen

US special forces are joining Emirati and local forces in conducting operations against al-Qaeda positions in Yemen, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The US is putting boots on the ground in Yemen as it supports UAE forces in a “major” offensive against al-Qaeda positions in the country, the Pentagon said on Friday.

US special operations forces are helping Emirati and local forces in conducting new operations on extremist stronghold Shabwa province, where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has an established presence.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the aim was to “degrade” AQAP’s ability to coordinate external terrorist operations.

The United States considers AQAP to be al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch, and a long-running drone war augmented by occasional raids against the group has intensified since President Donald Trump took office in January.

“Our support there is a continuation of what we have been doing since January,” Davis said.

“It involves a very small number of US forces on the ground who are primarily there to facilitate the flow of information,” he added, though he noted that “combat can always happen.”

The mission aims to “go in there and really rid the Shabwa governate of remaining holdout areas” of al-Qaeda, Davis said.

The Pentagon announcement came after the United Arab Emirates on Thursday said it was launching a “major” operation.

“The operation is being closely supported by a combined UAE and US enabling force,” the UAE embassy said in a statement to AFP.

The US has conducted more than 80 strikes since February 28 in Yemen, Davis said.

Soon after taking office, Trump ordered an airborne raid that ended up with the deaths of a US Navy SEAL and several Yemeni civilians in Baida province, south of Marib.

For more than two years, Yemen has been locked in a devastating civil war between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels who control the capital.

Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the conflict to expand its presence in several areas of southern and eastern Yemen under the nominal control of the government and its allies in a Saudi-led military coalition.