A suspected US drone strike killed a local leader in al Qaeda and five of his aides in southern Yemen on Tuesday, residents said, as Yemeni and Emirati troops pressed their offensive against the militant group.
Abu Sameh al Zinjibari and other men died when a missile struck their moving car in Amoudiya, a village near the Qaeda-controlled towns of Jaar and Zinjibar.
Government and Emirati forces based in the port city of Aden, about 40km (25 miles) away, have been mounting a ground push against towns held by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) along a vast stretch of Yemen’s coast.
AQAP, which has planned several foiled bombing attempts on Western-bound airliners and claimed credit for the 2015 attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices in Paris, is considered the most dangerous branch of the global militant group.
It is unclear whether the ground fighting is being coordinated with the United States, which has for years launched drone strikes against al Qaeda throughout the country.
US officials said earlier this month they were considering a request from the United Arab Emirates request for air power, intelligence and logistics support.
The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in a civil war in Yemen in March 2015 to back Yemen’s government against the Iran-allied Houthi group, opening up a security vacuum that allowed AQAP to seize territory.
It led a dramatic shift in strategy for the mostly indecisive campaign this month, spearheading a drive westwards to roll AQAP back from a 600km (370-mile) stretch of Arabian Sea coastline between Aden and Mukalla.
Yemen’s third largest port, Mukalla was the militants’ de facto capital for over a year where they grew rich by shaking down local businesses and charging port taxes. The coalition advance forced them to quit the city largely without a fight on Sunday.