WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. provided firepower and other aid to Yemen in its strike this week against suspected al-Qaida hide-outs and training sites within its borders, the New York Times reported.
President Barack Obama approved the military and intelligence support, which came at the request of the Yemeni government. It was intended to help stem growing attacks against American and other foreign targets in Yemen, the Times reported in its online editions late Friday.
Officials said at least 34 militants were killed in the Yemeni strike on Thursday in what was an unusually heavy assault as the Obama administration presses the deeply unstable country for tougher action against the terror network.
Witnesses, however, put the number killed at over 60 and said the dead were mostly civilians, including women and children. They denied the target was an al-Qaida stronghold, and one provincial official said only 10 militant suspects died.
The United States has repeatedly called on Yemen to take stronger action against al-Qaida, whose fighters have increasingly found refuge here in the past year. Worries over the growing presence are compounded by fears that Yemen could collapse into turmoil from its multiple conflicts and increasing poverty and become another Afghanistan, giving the militants even freer rein.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, denied the U.S. launched missiles in the attack.
Albasha said the intended target was Qasim al-Raymi, but he escaped the strike. Al-Raymi is a suspected al-Qaida leader, and is one of 23 militants who broke out of a prison in San'a in February 2006 and is still at large. Yemeni authorities have said they believe he was involved in the July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis visiting a temple in central Yemen.
Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said al-Raymi is deputy commander of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and has managed to escape several previous attempts by authorities to get him.