Yemeni officials claimed that more than 30 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters were killed during US airstrikes in the south over the past two days. Also, US intelligence officials have expressed doubts about reports that AQAP’s top leader was killed.
“The airstrikes freed a Yemeni military unit besieged in southeast Abyan for several weeks,” unnamed Yemeni military officials told The Associated Press.
US military officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on airstrikes, but said US forces are supporting Yemeni forces.
“We continue to provide counterterrorism aid, intelligence, and logistical support to Yemeni forces,” one official said.
While the unit that was freed was not named, the 25th Yemeni Mechanized Brigade is known to have been under siege by AQAP fighters just outside of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat that was published on July 30, Brigadier General Mohammed al Sawmali, the commander of the 25th Mechanized Brigade, admitted the US was providing logistical support to his forces but denied US forces were fighting against AQAP.
“The Americans have parachuted some supplies…. All that we have received from the US side was a shipment of food supplies, and I do not have any other information,” Sawmali said when asked if he received direct US military support.
The US is known to have carried out at least 11 air and cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders and fighters since mid-December 2009. Other recent airstrikes are thought to have been carried out by the US also, but little evidence has emerged to directly link the attacks to the US. The last confirmed strike, on Aug. 1, is believed to have been carried out by an unmanned Predator or Reaper, more commonly referred to as a “drone.” [For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2011, and US ‘drones’ kill 15 al Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen.]
Heavy fighting has been reported during the past week in and around the city of Zinjibar, which was taken over by AQAP and Ansar al Sharia, its political front group, in May. The southern Yemeni cities of Sharqa and Azzan, as well as vast regions in the south, are also under the control of AQAP. The Yemeni military claimed it has cleared AQAP from several areas in Abyan and killed more than 300 AQAP fighters in the province since May.
Several major clashes have been reported in the Dawfas area outside of Zinjibar, where more than 40 AQAP and 23 Yemeni soldiers have been reported killed since Aug. 25, according to press reports compiled by The Long War Journal.
Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of AQAP, is rumored to have been killed during fighting in the Dawfas area over the past week. The reports have not been confirmed, however, and AQAP has not released a statement announcing his death. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they are aware of reports of his death but do not believe he was killed.
“We see no evidence that he was killed in the incident earlier this week,” one official said.
For more information on Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s rise in southern Yemen, and US counterterrorism efforts, see LWJ report, US ‘drones’ kill 15 al Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen.