It would be Washington’s first strike on militants in Yemen since President Donald Trump took office on 20 January
The death toll from a US raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen on Sunday has risen to 57 people, including 41 suspected militants and 16 civilians, a provincial official said.
Eight women and eight children were among those killed in the raid in the central province of Baida, the official said.
It would be Washington’s first strike on militants in Yemen since President Donald Trump took office on 20 January.
Sources in the region said the raid targeted the houses of three tribal chiefs linked to al-Qaeda and that an unspecified number of civilians were also killed.
But the provincial official said Apache helicopters also struck a school, mosque and a medical facility used by al-Qaeda members.
Other sources spoke of US commandos taking part in the operation, but this has not been confirmed by credible sources.
The three prominent tribal figures killed in the attack were identified as brothers Abdulraouf and Sultan al-Zahab and Saif Alawai al-Jawfi, the official and other sources said.
They were known for their strong links to al-Qaeda, the sources said.
The Zahab brothers had two other al-Qaeda brothers who were also killed in the past by drone strikes.
An al-Qaeda chief in the region, who was identified as foreigner Abu Barazan, was also killed in the attack, the official said.
The military operation is the first to be attributed to the United States against militants in Yemen since Trump took office on 20 January.
Under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, the United States stepped up its use of drone strikes against suspected militants in Yemen, as well as other countries including Afghanistan.
The US considers the extremist group’s Yemen-based franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be its most dangerous.
But although the US only sporadically reports on a long-running bombing campaign against AQAP, it is the only force known to be operating drones over Yemen.
On 14 January, the Pentagon announced the killing a senior al-Qaeda operative in Baida the week before in an air strike.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have exploited a power vacuum created by the two-year-old conflict in Yemen between the government and Shia Houthi rebels, especially in the country’s south and southeast.
Baida province is mostly controlled by the Houthis, but Yakla is ruled by tribes and has at least two training bases for al-Qaeda, local sources said.
Forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi have mounted offensives against militants in the south, but the militants remain active in several areas.
The conflict in Yemen has killed more than 7,400 people since a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to support Hadi in March 2015, according to the World Health Organization.
But UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said last week that as many as 10,000 civilians may have died.