Despite a string of victories over al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a team of U.S. troops on the ground in Yemen will remain in place for now, a top Pentagon official said.
The deployment is "short term" but currently has no firm end date, Cook said.The “small contingent” of U.S. forces was deployed there in April to support Arab-led forces' effort to oust the militant group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from their stronghold in the Yemeni port of Al Mukalla, Cook said.“They are still in country, still providing that liaison role, particularly in support of intelligence sharing,” Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said Monday.
“It’s going to be a limited period of time, but I don’t have a particular deadline [for withdrawal],” Cook told reporters at a press briefing at the Pentagon.
U.S. defense officials revealed the deployment on May 6, marking the first time in more than a year that the U.S. military has sent troops into Yemen.
In March 2015, the U.S. evacuated about 125 special operations troops amid the expanding civil war between government loyalists backed by a Sunni Arab coalition and Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
Amid the chaos of Yemen's civil war, militants with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula seized the port city last year. With looted bank money and oil exports, AQAP transformed Yemen's southern coastline into a wealthy ministate.
The U.S. is supporting a coalition led by the United Arab Emrites, a Sunni Gulf Arab ally, to push AQAP out of the port city.
AQAP forces have mostly withdrawn from the port city and a local airport there reopened Sunday for the first time in a year, according to local report.
In addition to the small team of U.S. forces on the ground, the U.S. military is also providing the UAE military with intelligence support, advice and assistance with operational planning, maritime interdiction and security operations, medical support and aerial refueling, defense officials said.
Additional U.S. support for the Mokala operation is provided by the amphibious assault ship Boxer, which is staged off the coast of Yemen with about 4,500 Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The ship is providing medical support to the UAE troops, Davis said.