Several sources said the dawn raid targeted a school and a mosque, as well as houses belonging to senior militants. If confirmed it would be the first US raid in Yemen under Donald Trump's presidency.
A US military raid in Yemen killed up to 41 suspected Al-Qaeda militants and up to 16 civilians on Sunday, several sources said.
Eight women and eight children were killed in the dawn raid on Yakla district in the central province of Bayda, a provincial official, who did not want to be named, and tribal sources told the news agency AFP. Sources told the agency EFE that six women and three children were killed in the attack, .
The raid targeted the homes of three tribal chiefs linked to Al-Qaeda, tribal sources told AFP earlier. But Apache helicopters also targeted a school, a mosque and a medical facility used by Al-Qaeda militants, the provincial official said.
Before the arrival of commandos, about 20 Apache helicopters and drones flew over the area and attacked a school, a mosque and a jail, considered to be the headquarters of the terrorist members, several neighbors told EFE.
Then dozens of special forces troops in helicopters descended on the region and attacked several houses belonging to members of the al Qaeda terrorist group, several unnamed sources told EFE.
"The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al-Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside," one resident told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Next, the gunmen opened fire at the US soldiers who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties."
According to the villagers and unnamed security sources who spoke with AP, three prominent members of the al Qaeda group were killed: Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, his brother Sultan al-Dhahab; and either Seif al-Yufi or Seif al-Nims.
Another Al Qaeda member, identified as Abdallah al-Dahab, was still missing, the EFE sources added.
The al-Dhahab family is considered an ally of al-Qaida, which security forces say is concentrated in Bayda province. A third family member, Tarek al-Dhahab, was killed in a US drone strike several years ago.
First raid under Trump
It was the first military raid in Yemen attributed to the United States since President Donald Trump took office on January 20. Yemen was one of the seven Muslim majority countries listed on Trump's immigration ban.
In 2014 US special forces attempted to rescue an American and a South African hostage held by al Qaeda in another part of the country, but the captives were killed in the subsequent firefight.
Under Barack Obama's leadership dozens of drone strikes struck the Arabian Peninsula, to combat al Qaeda.
Both Al Qaeda and the so-called "Islamic State" have exploited the deterioration of security in Yemen, caused by an ongoing conflict between forces loyal to President Abdo Rabu Mansur Hadi and Hutu rebels, to expand in the southern areas of the country.
aw/rc (AFP, EFE, AP, Reuters)