Unmanned US Predators and Reapers killed three al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters during a raid in the terrorist-controlled city of Jaar last night. The strike is the third of its kind in Yemen by US drones in three days.
The US drones struck a weapons storage depot in Jabal Khanfar, a hill that overlooks the city of Jaar in Abyan province, AFP reported. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters are said to have moved weapons seized in last week’s assault on a military base in Al Koud to the location. In that assault, AQAP overran a Yemeni mechanized base in Al Koud, killing 185 troops, wounding over than 150, and capturing at least 55 more.
Three AQAP fighters were said to have been killed last night’s strike in Jaar. No senior terrorist leaders or operatives have been reported killed.
The US drone strike was followed by a Yemeni artillery barrage in Makhzan near Jaar, which resulted in the deaths of six AQAP fighters, AFP reported.
Last night’s drone strike in Jaar was preceded by two attacks by US drones on Friday night and Saturday. In the first strike, the Predators and Reapers hit an AQAP hideout in a rural area near Al Baydah, a city in the southern part of Baydah province. Abdulwahhab al-Homaiqani, an AQAP commander in the city, and 16 of his fighters were reported to have been killed in the strike.
In the second strike, AQAP “hideouts” in Jaar were targeted. The Yemen Post said that 20 AQAP fighters were killed in the airstrikes.
AQAP has seized large areas of southern Yemen. The terror group took control of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, in May 2011, and has battled government forces to a standstill. Three Yemeni Army brigades – one infantry, one mechanized, and one armored – are involved in the fighting in Zinjibar, but have been unable to dislodge AQAP from the city.
The cities of Al Koud, Ja’ar, and Shaqra in Abyan are currently run by AQAP. The terror group also controls Azzan in Shabwa province. AQAP seized control of Rawdah in Baydah in January but later withdrew after negotiating a peace agreement with the local government.
The US has stepped up its targeting of AQAP operatives perceived to be a direct threat to the US homeland after the terror group attempted several attacks, including the failed Christmas Day airline bombing over Detroit in 2009. But the recent drone strikes have targeted local AQAP operatives who pose a threat to the Yemeni government.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 20 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including last night’s strike in Jaar. 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 14 airstrikes in Yemen. Four of those strikes have taken place so far in 2012.
In the most high-profile strike, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki on Sept. 30, 2011 in Al Jawf province, where al Qaeda is known to operate training camps. In addition to serving as a recruiter and ideologue for AQAP, Anwar, an American citizen, is known to have played a role in directing terror attacks against the US. [See LWJ report, Awlaki’s emails to terror plotter show operational role, for more information.]
His son, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, was killed in a US attack on Oct. 14, 2011 in Azzan in Shabwa province. The Oct. 14 strike targeted an Egyptian named Ibrahim al Bana who served as AQAP’s media emir. Al Bana was not killed in the strike. Just hours before the strike, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki had said he wanted “to attain martyrdom as my father attained it,” according to a Yemeni journalist who supports AQAP. [See LWJ report, Anwar al Awlaki’s son hoped ‘to attain martyrdom as my father attained it.’]
The US has killed one senior al Qaeda operative in Yemen this year. On Jan. 31, 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 had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.