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Suspected U.S. drones hit al-Qaida in Yemen

Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed 11 al-Qaida militants Saturday in southern Yemen, Yemeni military officials said.

The first attack took place near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces southeast of the capital, Sanaa, killing six militants, including one Egyptian national, the officials said. The second strike hit two cars in Marib, killing five al-Qaida-linked fighters.

Over the past year, parts of Marib, Shabwa and other southern provinces have fallen under the control of al-Qaida militants who have capitalized on the turmoil in Yemen resulting from the uprising that toppled longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

There was no immediate word from the U.S. on whether Washington was behind Saturday's attacks. In the past two weeks, suspected U.S. airstrikes have killed at least three senior al-Qaida operatives in southern Yemen.

Yemeni officials have reported more frequent U.S. drone strikes since Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took power in February after Saleh stepped down. Hadi has since ramped up the fight against al-Qaida militants.

The Pentagon recently sent American military trainers to Yemen, and Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help the impoverished Arab nation fight al-Qaida and other extremist groups in the country.

The U.S. says al-Qaida's Yemeni branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the group's most dangerous offshoots.

Yemen was the launching pad for two foiled al-Qaida attacks on U.S. territory: the Christmas 2009 attempt by an underwear bomber to bring down an American airliner over Detroit and the sending of printer cartridges packed with explosives on cargo planes to Chicago-area synagogues in 2010.

In another development, Yemeni military officials said an assault by government troops Saturday on al-Qaida forces around the southern city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, led to the deaths of a general, a soldier and six militants.

The attack was part of the Yemeni military's broader campaign against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the south. Residents say the military used warplanes and artillery to pound areas west and north of Zinjibar.

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