Military officials and residents said al-Qaida has taken control of a major airport, a sea port and an oil terminal in southern Yemen after brief clashes with troops.
The officials said al-Qaida fighters clashed Thursday with members of one of Yemen's largest infantry brigades outside Mukalla, a city the militants overran earlier this month. The officials, speaking from Sanaa on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press, said the leaders of the brigade fled.
The brigade is in charge of securing the coast of Mukalla, the provincial capital of Yemen's largest province, Hadramawt. After seizing the airport, the militants easily captured the sea port and oil terminal.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called al-Qaida in Yemen, also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) a threat not only to that country, but also to the United States.
It "does show determination to not only fight on the ground in Yemen...but also strike in the United States," Carter said Thursday at his first Pentagon press conference as U.S. defense chief.
Carter said that if there is no stable government in Yemen, the U.S. will have to use "other means" to protect America against AQAP.
Al-Qaida's Yemeni branch has long been seen as the network's most lethal franchise.
On the issue of Shi'ite Houthi rebels attempting to assert themselves in Yemen, Carter said that getting stability in the country is "going to require the Houthis to want to pursue a political settlement."
He added that the U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia to conduct operations "designed to lead to a political settlement."
VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon.