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U.S. Air Force refueling missions over Yemen grow by 60 percent

August 8, 2016 (Photo Credit: SSgt. Alexandre Montes/Air Force)

The U.S. has executed a handful of air kills against extremist groups like al-Qaida in Yemen since February, but the Saudi-led air war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels also has U.S. assets contributing to a much quieter mission.

U.S. Air Force KC-135s and KC-10s are and have been prepositioned within the Central Command theater ready to “support partner nations and theater refueling requirements,” said Air Forces Central Command spokeswoman Kiley Dougherty.

As of Aug. 8, “we've flown 1,144 aerial refueling sorties totaling approximately 9,793 flying hours and providing 40,535,200 pounds of fuel to 5,525 receiving aircraft,” Dougherty told Air Force Times in an email Monday. The latest statistics show sorties in support of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemeni rebels have increased roughly 61 percent since AFCENT last provided data in February.

AFCENT has been tracking the data since April 3, 2015. On that date, just a few days into the Saudi-led bombing campaign, Houthi fighters — anti-government rebels who advanced on the port-city of Aden — faced a series of setbacks when Saudi and other regional warplanes dislodged them. The first few weeks involved dozens of fighter jets from Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, among other Gulf nations.

The Saudi coalition has focused largely on subduing the Houthi uprising, creating a power vacuum for extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State group to precipitously expand. In this instance, U.S. officials have said that America and its allies remain committed to nullifying the terror groups.

The U.S. conducted a counterterrorism strike against AQAP on Aug.4, taking out three al-Qaida operatives, Central Command said in a statement on Friday. The strike against the operatives, who were not identified, was carried out in the Shabwah governorate in central Yemen.

“AQAP remains a significant threat to the region, the United States and beyond,” the statement said. “Al-Qaida's presence has a destabilizing effect on Yemen; it is using the unrest in Yemen to provide a haven from which to plan future attacks against our allies as well as the U.S. and its interests.”

Air strikes this year, announced previously by CENTCOM, include:

  • A July 16 strike near central Yemen killed six al-Qaida operatives and injured one, and a July 8 strike near central Yemen killed one al-Qaida operative.
  • A May 19 strike in the Shabwah governorate in central Yemen killed four al-Qaida operatives.
  • A March 30 strike near Azzan in central Yemen killed two al-Qaida operatives.
  • A Feb. 29 strike in Hadramawt governorate in east Yemen killed three al-Qaida operatives.
  • A Feb. 3 strike in Shabwah governorate in central Yemen killed six al-Qaida operatives.
     

“The U.S. will not relent in its mission to degrade, disrupt and destroy al-Qaida and its remnants,” the statement said. “We remain committed to defeating AQAP and denying it safe haven, regardless of its location. Strikes conducted by the U.S. in Yemen continue to diminish AQAP's presence in the region.”

 

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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