The U.S. has conducted pilotless drone attacks in Yemen nearly every day since Saturday.
SANAA, Yemen — At least six suspected al-Qaida members were killed Wednesday in a U.S. drone strike in northern Yemen, local sources said, in an escalating campaign in which at least 20 Islamist militants have died this week.
The U.S. never comments on strikes by its pilotless aircraft, which it has used to track down militants in Yemen for years. The Yemeni government tolerates such strikes but usually does not comment on the U.S. role in specific incidents.
Washington has scaled up action against al-Qaida in Yemen, where the group exploited widespread anti-government unrest in 2011 to seize swathes of territory in the southern part of the country, before being driven out in a U.S.-backed offensive in June last year.
The sources said the drone strike targeted a vehicle travelling in rural areas near the capital Sanaa.
"The vehicle was totally destroyed and the corpses were burned beyond recognition," one source told Reuters.
U.S. drones have launched almost daily raids on suspected al-Qaida militants in Yemen since Saturday.
Shoring up stability and security in Yemen is a priority for the United States and its Gulf Arab allies because of its location next to the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and to shipping lanes, and because it is home to one of the most active wings of al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by Western governments to be one of the most dangerous arms of the global network founded by Osama bin Laden and has attempted a number of attacks against U.S. targets.
Four suspected insurgents were killed Tuesday in a strike at al-Jawf province, near the border with Saudi Arabia. On Monday, four suspected militants were killed in a drone strike in central Yemen while another six were killed in two separate raids Saturday and Sunday.
A further 10 suspected al-Qaida fighters died Sunday in an explosion in a house in southern Yemen.
Airstrikes have aggravated discontent among Yemenis, who say the strikes pose a threat to civilians in the area.
A Yemeni cabinet minister criticized drone strikes Tuesday and urged a move to ground operations to avoid hurting civilians.
On Sunday, armed tribesman, angry at what they said was a drone attack on an area inhabited by civilians, blocked the main road linking Maarib with Sanaa.
Earlier this month, dozens of armed tribesmen also took to the streets in southern Yemen to protest against drone strikes they said had killed innocent civilians and fuelled anger against the U.S.
Writing by Sami Aboudi.
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