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Yemen's al-Qaeda takes three towns days after deadly US raid

Botched raid killed 14 militants, but also civilians including newborn baby, 8-year-old girl thought to have been a US citizen, and Navy SEAL
Yemenis inspect damage after a reported air strike by the Saudi-led coalition (AFP)

Al-Qaeda in Yemen has taken over three southern towns just days after a deadly US special operations raid targeting its commanders, a security official and tribal sources said on Friday.

The militants' advance into the Abyan province towns of Loder, Shaqra and Ahwar came as the White House defended Sunday's raid on an al-Qaeda compound as a "success," even though multiple civilians - including a newborn baby and an eight-year-old girl thought to have been a US citizen - and a Navy SEAL were killed.

Trump raid on Yemen kills civilians, including newborn baby: Report

Abyan has long been an al-Qaeda stronghold, and it was only through a major offensive backed by a Saudi-led coalition last summer that the government was able to drive the group out of the province's main towns.

The entry into Loder and Shaqra on Thursday evening was helped by a pullout by government forces angry over the late payment of their wages, a security official told AFP.

"Our forces are also angry that they have not been provided with the weapons and other equipment to confront the jihadists, who have been stepping up their armed attacks," the official said.

Al-Qaeda fighters set up roadblocks around the towns and blew up two security service buildings.

Saudi-led aircraft carried out two strikes on militant positions in Loder overnight, the official added. 

Tribal sources said there were fears that the militants would now move on the provincial capital Zinjibar.

Zinjibar lies just 50 kilometres from Yemen's second city Aden where the government is based.

Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of nearly two years of fighting between government forces and rebels who control the capital Sanaa to entrench its presence in the south.

Washington has kept up its long-running drone war against the militants, but the campaign has done little to dent their influence.

Sunday's raid on an al-Qaeda compound in Baida province was the first such operation of Donald Trump's presidency.

Navy SEAL team chief special warfare operator William "Ryan" Owens, 36, was killed and three other US troops were wounded in a fierce gunfight.

And on Wednesday, the Pentagon acknowledged that several non-combatants, including children, had apparently been killed. Human rights group Reprieve, speaking to sources on the ground near the raid, said 23 civilians had died.

A Yemeni provincial official said eight women and eight children died.

The International Crisis Group think-tank warned on Thursday that operations like the Baida raid risked fanning hostility towards the United States among civilians, providing fertile ground for recruitment by Al-Qaeda.