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Report: U.S. steps up covert strikes in Yemen

WASHINGTON - The New York Times says the Obama administration has intensified the covert U.S. war in Yemen, hitting militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets.

The newspaper says the accelerated campaign has occurred in recent weeks as conflict in Yemen has left the government there struggling to cling to power.

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The report, posted on the newspaper's website late Wednesday, says Yemeni troops who had been battling militants linked to al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital. American officials hope the strikes will help prevent militants from consolidating power.

A drone strike by U.S. special operations forces on May 5 targeted U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but missed, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The Times report notes there is a risk that opposing tribes and factions within Yemen could be feeding U.S. officials false information on the presence of Islamic militants in hopes of prompting American strikes against their domestic enemies.

Meanwhile, Yemen's Defense Ministry claimed Thursday that government troops had killed 12 suspected al Qaeda militants in the troubled southern province of Abyan.

The ministry statement said the militants were killed in gunbattles with government troops in the province's Doves and Kod areas, but gave no other details.

A military official in Abyan said government troops were advancing on the provincial capital of Zinjibar, captured by militants last week.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.