- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2016

A small U.S. military team has been on the ground in Yemen for several weeks, carrying out intelligence and support operations for the Arab coalition fighting al Qaeda’s terror cell in the country.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the team has been working closely with military commanders from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to push out al Qaeda fighters from the coastal town of Mukalla, located 400 miles southeast of the country’s capitol of Sana’a.

Capt. Davis declined to comment specifically on the size of the U.S. intelligence team on the ground in Yemen or which service branch they belonged to. But Capt. David did note the team was comprised of less than two dozen individuals.

It is the first acknowledged U.S. troop deployment into Yemen since Washington pulled all American forces in the country when violence broke out between the Yemeni government and Shi’ite Houthi rebels last March.

Aside from providing intelligence support to Saudi and UAE commanders, the team has also helped coordinate aerial surveillance operations and assisted local commanders in mission planning, Capt. Davis said.

In addition to the American military team, U.S. forces attached to the U.S.S. Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and elements of 13th Marine Expeditionay Unit anchored off the coast of Yemen are helping with maritime security and coordinating casualty evacuations from Mukalla.

Capt. Davis made clear the American intelligence team’s work in Yemen and ongoing U.S. military support operations in the country did not fall under the Pentagon’s rubric of train, advise and assist operations going on in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

He also differentiated between the ongoing U.S. mission on the ground in Yemen and U.S.-led counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda’s cell in the country, dubbed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Under that mission, U.S. drones and warplanes have carried out 4 strikes against al Qaeda targets in Yemen over the last two weeks, with 10 confirmed kills, Capt. Davis said.

Al Qaeda in Yemen “is a significant threat and they need to be rooted out of there,” Capt. Davis said, adding Yemeni forces need to take the lead in that fight but noted U.S. forces remain in the best position to provide military support to the country’s forces.

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