In a Wednesday press release, U.S. Central Command said the air strikes were carried out between May 25 and Aug. 14 in three different governorates. The operations bring the total number of counter-terrorism air strikes conducted by the U.S. in Yemen to 34.
A Central Command spokesperson said AQAP — the acronym for al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia — has been leveraging the chaos in Yemen by using the country as a base from which to plot, direct and encourage terrorist activity abroad.
“We will not relent on our pursuit of AQAP terrorists as they remain a significant threat to regional security and stability, and the safety of Americans at home and abroad,” said the spokesperson.
Yemen has been engulfed in a conflict between its government — backed by the Saudi-led coalition with the blessing of the U.S. — and Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
The announcement of air strikes comes on the heels of an Associated Press investigation which revealed that the Saudi-U.S. coalition recruited AQAP fighters to assist in the fight against the Houthis.
WATCH: Yemen holds mass funeral for children killed in air strike as Saudi Arabia insists raid was ‘legitimate’
The deals uncovered by the Associated Press reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously by the U.S. in Yemen.
In one conflict, the U.S. is working with Arab allies to eliminate AQAP terrorists. However, the larger mission is to win the Yemeni civil war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels; in that fight, Al-Qaeda militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition — and by extension, the U.S.
The U.S. has denied allegations of its collusion with AQAP militants, using announcements of air strikes to prove its point.
“The United States is certainly in a bind in Yemen,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It doesn’t make sense that the United States has identified al-Qaida as a threat, but that we have common interests inside of Yemen and that, in some places, it looks like we’re looking the other way.”
Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaida says its numbers – which U.S. officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members – are rising.
— With files from the Associated Press