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Yemen: US intensifies covert war, pledges new aid (UPDATES)

US takes advantage of power vacuum in Yemen to increase its covert war, while increasing aid.

Yemen 2011 6 9Enlarge
Anti-government protesters demonstrate in Sanaa on June 8, 2011, against the return of embattled president Ali Abdullah Saleh from Saudi Arabia, where he flew to seek medical treatment. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States has been reportedly taking advantage of the power vacuum in Yemen to intensify its covert war in the country and increase its strikes on militant suspects.

American officials told the New York Times that the Obama administration has been using more armed drones and fighter jets over recent weeks to target suspected enemies.

American officials say they are using the strikes to prevent militants from consolidating power as the government in Sanaa loses its grip on power. The strikes are allegedly an effort to contain the radical group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

At the same time, the U.S. is increasing aid to Yemeni war victims. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an additional $26 million on Thursday at the Libyan Contact Group meeting in Abu Dhabi, CNN reports.  

Yemen has been facing months of violent conflict, and government troops fighting Al Qaeda-linked militants in the south recently pulled back to the capital.

American jets killed a mid-level Al Qaeda operative, Abu Ali al-Harithi, on Friday, Reuters reports. Air strikes targeted, but failed to kill radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last month.

The strikes come after a nearly year-long halt in operations because they had been seen as not being accurate enough and causing too many civilian deaths. American officials say they are now receiving more information to improve the strikes' accuracy.

“We’ve seen the regime move its assets away from counterterrorism and toward its own survival,” Christopher Boucek with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the New York Times. "But as things get more and more chaotic in Yemen, the space for the Americans to operate in gets bigger."

He also warned of a backlash from the airstrikes if they accidentally kill civilians.

Demonstrators have been demanding the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has repeatedly reneged on offers to sign a deal agreeing to step down.

A suspected bombing at a mosque in his compound last Friday severely injured Saleh, leaving him with a collapsed lung and burns on 40 percent of his body, CNN reports. Saleh has been at a hospital in Saudi Arabia recovering.

Saleh has ruled the country for 33 years and has been a reliable U.S. ally.

In his absence, the United States and Saudi Arabia have been pushing to arrange a power transfer.

In Abu Dhabi, Clinton urged the international community to keep up resolve and sustain pressure on Gaddafi, CNN reports.

"Time is on our side, but we know we must sustain the pressure," she said, according to a prepared statement. "Gaddafi's isolation is growing, as evidenced by the increasing number of calls for his departure. The violence must stop... Gaddafi must go."

Italy, represented at the meeting by Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari, pledged up to $580 million to the Libyan opposition's Transitional National Council — with the caveat that it be used for daily expenses, not weapons.

And Kuwait is donating $180 million for humanitarian needs, said Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al Salman al Sabah, the Gulf nation's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.