Dozens of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters were killed in a pair of airstrikes in the southern Yemeni cities of Jaar and Al Baydah over the past 24 hours. The strikes are suspected to have been carried out by US aircraft; the reports have not been confirmed, however.
In the first strike, warplanes hit an AQAP hideout in a rural area near Al Baydah, a city in the southern part of Baydah province near Abyan province, another terrorist stronghold, according to the Globe and Mail. Abdulwahhab al-Homaiqani, an AQAP commander in the city, and 16 of his fighters were reported to have been killed in the strike. Yemeni tribesmen said the attacks were “carried out by US drone airplanes.”
In the second strike, strike aircraft hit AQAP “hideouts” in Jaar, one of several cities and towns under the terror group’s control in Abyan province. Twenty AQAP fighters were killed in the airstrikes, according to the Yemen Post.
US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm nor deny that US aircraft were involved in the strikes in Al Baydah and Jaar.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 18 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009. Other recent airstrikes are believed to have been carried out by the US also, but little evidence has emerged to directly link the attacks to the US.
The CIA has largely taken control of the strikes against AQAP in Yemen from the US military, which had been operating the program. The CIA wants to use the unmanned Predator and Reaper strike aircraft, which the US employs for strikes against terrorist groups based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Previously, the US military has targeted AQAP in Yemen using cruise missiles and fixed-wing strike aircraft, although Predators are known to have been used in two of the strikes.
Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 11 airstrikes in Yemen. The last confirmed US strike took place on Jan. 31, when US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawder in Abyan province. Fatahani was involved in the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 US sailors, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The strikes in Jaar and Al Baydah over the past day take place less then one week after AQAP attacked a Yemeni Army base in Al Koud in Abyan that housed a mechanized battalion. The AQAP fighters overran the base and decimated the battalion, killing 185 soldiers, wounding 150, and capturing at least 55 more.
The town of Al Koud is just south of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. Al Koud and Zinjibar are among several Yemeni cities and towns that are currently under AQAP control. The cities of Ja’ar, Shaqra, and Rawdah in Abyan are also presently run by AQAP. In addition, the terror group controls Azzan in Shabwa province.