A soldier from Yemen (far right) and another from Greece (third from left) train alongside U.S. nfantry officer students on a dismounted patrol on Oct. 3, 2012, at Fort Eustis, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick A. Albright/U.S. Army)

A small team of U.S. troops was on the ground in Yemen and Navy ships with Marines aboard were offshore to support friendly forces against an al-Qaeda offshoot as the U.S. deepened its involvement in yet another Mideast civil war, the Pentagon said Friday.

Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to say how many U.S. troops were in Yemen near the port city of Mukalla, a former stronghold of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terror group, or whether they were Special Forces.

Davis said it was a "very small team" that had been sent into Yemen two weeks ago and was expected to be withdrawn soon. "We view this as short term," he said.

In addition, the U.S. has been conducting anti-terror airstrikes in Yemen against the terror organization apart from the effort to assist local forces on the ground, Davis said. Four airstrikes since April 23 had killed an estimated 10 fighters, he said.

The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, lead ship for an amphibious ready group with Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, and two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, the USS Gravely and the USS Gonzalez, were also positioned off Mukalla, Davis said.

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