Unmanned US strike aircraft killed five Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a pair of strikes in a province in southern Yemen known to serve as a haven for the terror group.
The first strike targeted a vehicle as it was traveling in the city of Azzan in Shabwa province. Four AQAP fighters were killed and three were “critically wounded,” Yemeni officials told The Associated Press. Reuters reported that five AQAP fighters and one civilian were killed.
The vehicle is said to have been transporting senior AQAP leaders who had left a mosque in Azzan after Friday prayers, but the identity of those killed has not been disclosed.
In the second strike, the unmanned Predators or Reapers fired missiles at a building in Azzan that is thought to be used by AQAP. Four civilians were said to have been wounded in the strike.
Azzan is one of several cities and towns in southern Yemen that are under the control of AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Shariah. AQAP took control of Azzan in early June 2011, after seizing Zinjibar, the provincial capital of neighboring Abyan province.
The US has launched at least six strikes against AQAP in Yemen this month alone. During the period of March 9-13, the US hit AQAP targets two times each in the cities of Ja’ar in Abyan province and Al Baydah in Baydah province. The March 9 strike in Ja’ar killed Abdulwahhab al Homaiqani, an AQAP commander in the city, and 16 of his fighters. No senior AQAP leaders were reported to have been killed in the other strikes.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 23 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including yesterday’s strike in Al Baydah. 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. [For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2012.]
Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 17 airstrikes in Yemen. Seven of those strikes have taken place so far in 2012.
The pace of the US airstrikes has increased as AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, have taken control of vast areas of southern Yemen. In addition to Azzan and Zinjibar, AQAP also controls the cities of Al Koud, Ja’ar, and Shaqra in Abyan province. AQAP seized control of Rada’a in Al Baydah in January but later withdrew after negotiating a peace agreement with the local government.
US intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a direct threat to the homeland. The terror group has plotted multiple attacks on US soil. A strike in Yemen last year killed Anwar al Awlaki, the radical, US-born cleric who plotted attacks against the US, and Samir Khan, another American who served as a senior AQAP propagandist. Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, Anwar’s son, was killed in a separate strike in the country.