ADEN, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A suspected United States drone strike on a car in Yemen killed several men believed to be al Qaeda militants on Saturday, local residents said.
The strike occurred in the remote desert town of al-Saeed in Shabwa province in southern Yemen. Residents told Reuters the dead men were al Qaeda militants, but could not provide an exact death toll.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered one of the most powerful branches of the global militant group and claimed responsibility for deadly shootings in Paris on Jan. 7.
For years the United States has cooperated with Yemeni security forces to track and bomb AQAP members in the country’s rural badlands - a strategy which rights groups have criticised for causing repeated civilian deaths.
But after Shi‘ite Muslim rebels overran the capital Sanaa in September and took over President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s residence earlier this month, he and his cabinet resigned.
Hadi was a staunch defender of the drone programme, and his exit has left the Islamist Houthi rebels, whose motto is “death to America,” the de facto rulers of the country.
U.S. officials told Reuters last week that the Houthi takeover was depriving them of sufficient intelligence to locate AQAP targets and also avoid killing innocents in the attacks.
Another drone strike on Monday, the first since Hadi’s resignation, killed two suspected AQAP militants and a sixth grader.
Nineteen U.S. drone strikes killed 124 militants and four civilians in Yemen in 2014, according to the New America Foundation, which maintains a database of drone operations.
Reporting By Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Stephen Powell