- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2016

An American military intelligence team remains on the ground in Yemen, supporting the Arab coalition battling al Qaeda’s main faction in the country, amid an upswing in violence against the coalition and the country’s armed forces.

“We [still] have an operation that is going on in Yemen,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Friday, noting the team is still providing intelligence and battlefield support to military commanders from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The Defense Department first acknowledged the team’s participation in the coalition’s offensive against the al Qaeda cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

The U.S. military team played an integral role in the operation to retake the coastal town of Mukalla in Hadramawt province, located 400 miles southeast of the country’s capitol of Sana’a.

Providing intelligence support to Saudi and UAE commanders, the team also coordinated aerial surveillance operations and assisted local commanders in mission planning for the Mukalla offensive.

U.S. forces attached to the U.S.S. Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and elements of 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit were also anchored off the coast of Yemen, assisting in maritime security operations and coordinating casualty evacuations from Mukalla.

At the time, Pentagon officials claimed the team would be on the ground on a temporary basis, until coalition forces could secure the port city and retake other AQAP positions within the group’s safe haven in southern Yemen.

But almost a month later, the American team remains deployed alongside their Arab counterparts, just as a series of bombings and attacks has left Yemeni forces in Mukalla reeling.

Last week, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed credit for a massive suicide bombing in the city targeting a Yemeni police recruitment station there. The attack left 47 dead, mostly police recruits, and over 60 wounded.

A string of attacks and bombings against Yemeni military positions by Islamic State fighters in and around Mukalla left 15 troops dead. One of the attacks targeted the home of a senior provincial military commander.

Despite such attacks, Capt. Davis reiterated the U.S. intelligence team’s mission in Yemen remained temporary, and the team members would be rotating back to the United States soon.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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