US drones killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a strike today in an area that is currently under the terror group’s control.
The unmanned and heavily armed Predators or the more deadly Reapers targeted an AQAP vehicle as it was traveling near the town of Karma in the Azzan district in Shabwa province, according to The Yemen Post. Five AQAP fighters, but no senior leaders, are said to have been killed in the strike.
Azzan is one of several cities under AQAP control. The city was one of the first to fall to AQAP in early June 2011 after the terror group seized control of Zinjibar in neighboring Abyan province in late May 2011.
The family of slain AQAP ideologue and operational commander Anwar al Awlaki is from Azzan. Anwar’s son, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, was killed in October 2011 in Azzan. One month earlier, Anwar al Awlaki had been killed in a drone strike in Al Jawf province.
The US has carried out four drone strikes in Azzan. The two other strikes took place on March 30 this year, when drones targeted a vehicle and a compound in separate attacks that killed nine AQAP fighters and one civilian.
US strikes in Yemen
The US has carried out at least four airstrikes in Yemen this month; the last strike took place on April 14 in Baydah 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 27 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including today’s strike in Azzan. 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 21 airstrikes in Yemen. Eleven 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 against the terror group. AQAP has taken control of vast areas in southern Yemen and has been expanding operations against the government with raids on military bases in locations previously thought to be outside the terror group’s control.
Only one of this year’s 11 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 province 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.