- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) - As part of a sustained assault on the extremist group known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. warplanes have launched more than 30 airstrikes in Yemen the past two days, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that U.S. airstrikes have targeted members of the group as well as their facilities, equipment, fighting positions and heavy weapons such as artillery. Davis said the number of bombs dropped in the airstrikes numbering in the “mid-20s” had been launched on Thursday, followed by several more Friday, putting the combined total at more than 30.

The number of AQAP members has grown and estimated there are a couple thousand, a senior U.S. official said. The group has light anti-aircraft weapons and possibly have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, the official said. Over years of fighting, the group captured many weapons from the Yemeni government. The official was not authorized to provide details about the group’s threat publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Without specifying plans, Davis said the U.S. is undertaking a sustained campaign in areas of Yemen where AQAP is most active. He said no U.S. ground troops have been involved in, or even in the vicinity of, firefights there since a late-January special operations raid that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens.

“U.S. forces will continue to target AQAP militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization’s plots, and ultimately to protect American lives,” Davis said, adding that the group is at least as worrying as the Islamic State group that the U.S. has been attacking with daily airstrikes in Iraq and Syria for more than two years.

The January raid and subsequent airstrikes were authorized by President Donald Trump shortly after he took office, giving the Defense Department the ability to make certain decisions on military operations there.

The latest airstrikes did not come as a result of intelligence gathered during the January raid, Davis said. Other military officials and Trump have said that U.S. forces collected valuable information during the raid, including computer and phone data, as well as details on targeting, weapons-making and recruiting.

The defense official said a large volume of information was collected, including phone numbers, contact information and data on AQAP members and how they are connected. The information, the official said, could result in future military action.

Also, despite ongoing efforts to target the group’s leadership, the official said that AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi and its expert bombmaker Ibrahim bin Hassan al-Asiri are likely still alive.

“AQAP is the organization that has more American blood on its hands,” Davis said. “It is a deadly terrorist organization that has proven itself to be very effective in targeting and killing Americans, and they have intent and aspirations to continue doing so. We are working to stop them from that.”

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