Yemen: US drone strikes kill 11 al-Qaida militants

By AHMED AL-HAJ | May 12, 2012 | 3:46 PM EDT

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 file photo, Yemeni armed tribesmen stand guard in front of Ameriyah religious school which was seized by al-Qaida militant in Radda town, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital Sanaa, Yemen. After years of stalling under its now-ousted leader, Yemen is finally showing resolve in the fight against al-Qaida, aided by the United States, which just scored an intelligence coup by breaking up a new bomb plot there. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed 11 al-Qaida militants in southern Yemen on Saturday, Yemeni military officials said.

The first attack took place near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces southeast of the capital, Sanaa, killing six militants, including one Egyptian national, the officials said. The second strike hit two cars in Marib, killing five al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Over the past year, parts of Marib, Shabwa and other southern provinces have fallen under the control of al-Qaida militants who have capitalized on the turmoil in Yemen that stems from the popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

There was no immediate word from the U.S. on whether Washington was behind Saturday's attacks. In the past two weeks, suspected U.S. airstrikes have killed at least three senior al-Qaida operatives in southern Yemen.

Yemeni officials have reported more frequent U.S. drone strikes since Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took power in February after Saleh stepped down. Hadi has since ramped up the fight against al-Qaida militants.

The Pentagon recently sent American military trainers to Yemen, and Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to assist the impoverished Arab nation fight al-Qaida and other extremist groups in the country.

The U.S. says al-Qaida's Yemeni branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the group's most dangerous offshoots.

Yemen was the launching pad for two foiled al-Qaida attacks on U.S. territory: the Christmas 2009 attempt to down an American airliner over Detroit with an underwear bomb and the sending of printer cartridges packed with explosives to Chicago-area synagogues in 2010.

On Monday, The Associated Press disclosed that the CIA thwarted yet another plot by AQAP to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb which could have been undetectable by conventional airport scanners.

Separately, Yemeni military officials said an assault by government troops Saturday on al-Qaida forces around the southern city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, left a general, a soldier and six militants dead.

The attack was part of the Yemeni military's broader campaign against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the south. Residents say the military used warplanes and artillery to pound areas west and north of Zinjibar.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.