Defense

Al-Qaida Claims It Has Teamed Up With US-Backed Forces

The leader of an al-Qaida branch in Yemen says his fighters have often joined up with US-backed forces in the fight against Iranian-sponsored militant elements.

Qasim al-Rimi, a U.S. government most wanted terrorist, runs al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which many national security analysts consider the most dangerous affiliate of the global terror network. Al-Rimi said Sunday the group fights with several Sunni Islamic factions against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, the Associated Press reported.

“We fight along all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups,” he told AQAP’s media outfit al-Malahem, adding that battlefield allies include militant salafist groups and “the Muslim Brotherhood and also our brothers among the sons of (Sunni) tribes.”

The terrorist leader has been the target of several U.S. airstrikes since he took over AQAP from Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike two years ago, the AP reports. (RELATED: US Follows Up Yemen Raid With More Than 20 Air Strikes In One Day)

Al-Rimi didn’t specify exactly what he meant by fighting “along,” but AQAP is an unofficial ally of the government of exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his supporters in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority states of the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. currently supports operations against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels through intelligence-sharing, training and refueling of Saudi bombers.

Now in its third year, the conflict in Yemen has turned into a proxy war between the region’s dominant countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi-led coalition is trying to restore Hadi to power after Houthi rebels seized control of Yemen’s capital in 2014. Iran has countered with arms and logistical support to the Houthis as part of a larger strategy to degrade Saudi influence in the region. (RELATED: Saudi Arabia Warns Iran Is Trying To Turn Yemen Into A ‘Missile Base’)

U.N.-brokered peace talks have failed to achieve a cease fire, and terror groups including AQAP and ISIS affiliates have exploited the instability to become further entrenched in Yemen’s lawless southern region.

The war has devastated much of the already impoverished country and killed more than 10,000 since late 2014, according to U.N. estimates.

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