The United States claims to have killed dozens of people at an "al Qaeda training camp" in the mountains of southern Yemen on Tuesday. Local officials and a medic said at least 50 militants had been killed.
The attack reportedly took place as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) recruits queued for food at the camp, west of the port city of Mukalla on Yemen's south coast.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that a US airstrike on an AQAP training camp had killed dozens of fighters but it gave no further details. Previous American airstrikes purportedly killing militants in Yemen have later been reported to have killed civilians, with more than 100 estimated to have died in total.
The strikes set off huge fires inside the camp, residents said, and at least 30 people were wounded.
"The planes struck as al Qaeda people stood in line to receive their dinner meal," a local official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone.
Micah Zenko, a counterterrorism analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations who has been tracking US airstrikes, speculated to the Guardian newspaper that the high number of fatalities suggested the US had changed its strategy regarding counterterrorism operations.
Until Tuesday's strike in Yemen and another in Somalia earlier this month that killed more than 150 people, the average casualty toll over 575 US air strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia was seven deaths per strike.
"The Somalia and Yemen strikes suggest that the White House has authorized a significant opening of the aperture to target gatherings of suspected terror groups, rather than named individuals who pose imminent threats," Zenko told the Guardian. The Pentagon denied any change in policy.
AQAP has exploited the war in Yemen to expand its control in the country, seizing control of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout province, in 2015 and recruiting more followers.
The US regards AQAP, formed by the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni wings of the group in 2009, as one of the deadliest branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
The group had used Yemen to plot attacks against Western targets, including an attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner in 2009. It also claimed responsibility for an attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that killed 12 people last year, although some analysts suspect its role was more inspirational than direct.
The US has frequently targeted al Qaeda militants across Yemen with drone strikes, killing many prominent leaders of the group over the past few years.
Yemen is also being hit by air strikes by a Saudi-led Arab coalition targeting Iran-allied Houthi rebels, a campaign which has killed thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian catastrophe.
On Wednesday, the World Food Program (WFP) warned that nearly half of Yemen's 22 provinces were on the verge of famine as result of the war.
Aid groups have blamed curbs imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on access to Houthi-controlled ports for the crisis and also accuse Houthis of preventing supplies from reaching some areas, including the city of Taiz in the southwest.
"From a food security perspective, 10 of Yemen's 22 provinces are classified as emergency, which is one step before famine," Adham Muslim, deputy director of the WFP office in the capital Sanaa, said as the agency launched a food voucher program to help the most needy.
Fighting over the past year has displaced about 2.3 million people and left more than half of Yemen's 26 million population in need of food aid, Muslim said.
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