SAN'A, Yemen -- Yemeni military officials said Saturday that two U.S. airstrikes killed at least 18 al-Qaida-linked militants in an evening attack on a central province that had been partly overrun by the group earlier this year.

The U.S. Central Command spokesman, Army Maj. T.G. Taylor, declined to comment on any American role in the strikes.

The United States considers the Yemen branch of al-Qaida one of its most dangerous. U.S. aircraft have targeted leaders of the branch in Yemen in the past, including a drone strike last year that killed American-born al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

Residents in Bayda province, where the attack was carried out Friday evening, and a medical official there said 18 militants had been killed.

They said al-Qaida quickly buried the bodies. However, the governor of Bayda said in a statement that the death toll reached 30, including Egyptian, Syrian, Pakistani and Afghan nationals.

Three Yemeni military officials blamed the attack on the United States, saying the Yemeni military does not have the capacity to carry out nighttime airstrikes.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula took advantage of a year of protests in Yemen to expand its reach. The uprising eventually led to the ouster of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, but poorly equipped and trained Yemeni armed forces have failed to regain control of key towns from al-Qaida.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon is planning to restart programs that would fund military training and equipment in Yemen with about $75 million in assistance, nearly a year after they were shut down because of the political turmoil.

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