Unmanned US strike aircraft killed 21 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in two separate strikes in southern Yemen over the past several days. One of the strikes took place in an area where Yemeni troops have been battling the terror group for nearly a week.
The Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers killed seven AQAP fighters as they traveled in a vehicle in the province of Baydah, according to The Associated Press. Yemeni officials claimed the AQAP fighters were traveling to the neighboring province of Abyan, where Yemeni troops have been fighting AQAP in the city of Lawdar for the past week.
In a separate strike on April 11, US drones killed 14 AQAP fighters in an attack on a convoy in Lawdar, according to Xinhua. “Foreign nationals,” or AQAP fighters from outside of Yemen, were reported to have been killed in the strike.
Yemeni officials did not give the nationalities of those killed in today’s strike, but Saudis, Somalis, and Pakistanis were reported to have been among those killed during fighting in Lawdar on April 11. Two “senior members” of AQAP, Dardish Ahmed Mohammed Taher and Imad al Manshaby, who was described as a “field leader,” were among those killed, according to Saba Net.
Lawdar has been the scene of the latest major fighting in the widening AQAP insurgency in southern Yemen. The fighting in Lawdar began five days ago, when AQAP overran a military base and seized a “large quantity of heavy and medium weapons,” according to the Yemen Post. Several tanks were said to have been seized, and at least one was destroyed in subsequent airstrikes.
The Yemeni military claims that more than 200 AQAP fighters have been killed in and around Lawdar over the past week. Dozens of Yemeni soldiers and tribesmen who back the government are also reported to have been killed.
US strikes in Yemen
The US has carried out at least three airstrikes in Yemen this month; the last strike took place on April 8 in Shabwa province. The US launched at least six strikes against AQAP in Yemen in March.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 26 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including yesterday’s strike in 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 20 airstrikes in Yemen. Ten of those strikes have taken place so far in 2012.
This year, the US appears to be targeting AQAP foot soldiers in an effort to support Yemeni military operations. Only one of this year’s 10 strikes has killed a senior AQAP operative in Yemen. On Jan. 31, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar 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.
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. AQAP controls the cities of Zinjibar, Al Koud, Ja’ar, and Shaqra in Abyan province. The terror group also controls Azzan in Shabwa province. AQAP seized control of Rada’a in 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 against targets in the US. 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.