USA warplanes conducted more than 20 airstrikes in Yemen as the Pentagon continued an intensifying campaign to strike targets associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the strikes were aimed at degrading the group's ability to "coordinate external terror attacks" and to limit its use of Yemen as a "safe space for terror plotting".
Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, or AQAP, has seeped into Yemen's ungoverned spaces where they plot, direct and inspire attacks against US and allied targets, Davis said.
It was not clear Thursday whether intelligence captured in the January 29 raid led to Thursday's airstrikes, or if this was the first operation against the terrorist group in Yemen since that operation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to the request Monday, saying that the USA military would already be conducting three separate investigations into the incident, and defended the raid.
The coordinated series of attacks against al Qaeda militants occurred in three Yemeni provinces that have been areas of suspected terrorist activity - Abyan, Shabwa and Baydha - according to a senior US military official and a Yemeni military official. According to media reports, the operation's goal was to capture or kill the group's leader Qassim Rimi, who is considered the third most unsafe terrorist in the world and a master recruiter. Critics have questioned the raid's execution and value.
But the militant group has exploited a power vacuum created by two years of war between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and rebels who control the capital to consolidate its presence, particularly in the south and east.
The U.S government considers AQAP to be the most risky al-Qaeda branch because of its emphasis and reputation for plotting attacks on overseas targets.
The strikes are the first to target the terror group since a deadly January raid that left Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens dead.
Trump, citing information from his defence secretary, told Congress on Tuesday that the raid yielded valuable intelligence that would "lead to many more victories in the future".