The US launched two drone strikes today in a city in southern Yemen that is currently under the control of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Seven AQAP fighters and eight civilians are reported to have been killed in the airstrikes.
The first strike targeted “a militant hideout” in Jaar, a city in Abyan province that is currently under al Qaeda control, CNN reported. The eight civilians were killed after they attempted to recover the bodies of AQAP fighters, apparently after the unmanned US Predators or Reapers launched a second salvo of missiles into the hideout.
The second strike targeted a home in Jaar that was thought to be used as an AQAP safe house. Three AQAP leaders are said to have been killed in that strike.
Jaar, which is just north of Zinjibar, is a known stronghold for AQAP, and US drones have now hit targets in the city five times this year. The US attacked AQAP in Jaar just five days ago, and killed 8 AQAP fighters. The drones also struck twice in March. One strike targeted a a weapons storage depot on Jabal Khanfar, a hill that overlooks the city. AQAP was moving weapons, including tanks, that had been seized during raids on Yemeni Army bases outside of Zinjibar.
US strikes in Yemen
The US has now carried at least six drone strikes in Yemen this month. 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 US conducted six airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen in March, and at least six more in April.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have conducted at least 35 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including today’s strike in Abyan province. [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 29 airstrikes in Yemen, with 19 of those strikes taking place so far in 2012. This year, the US appears to be targeting both AQAP leaders and 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.
Three senior AQAP operatives have been killed in 19 strikes so far this year. The most recent strike that killed a senior AQAP leader took place on May 6, when the US killed Fahd al Quso in a drone attack in Shabwa province. Quso, who has been described as AQAP’s external operations chief, was involved in numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. The US obtained the information leading to Quso from a Saudi operative who had penetrated AQAP.
On Jan. 31, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province. Fatahani was also involved in the suicide attack on the USS Cole, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US also killed Mohammed Saeed al Umda (a.k.a. Ghareeb al Taizi) in an April 22 drone strike on a convoy in the Al Samadah area of Marib province. Prior to the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, he had attended the Al Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan. Umda served as a member of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard in Afghanistan before returning to Yemen, and was involved in the October 2002 suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006.
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, Jaar, and Shaqra in Abyan province. The terror group also holds 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 latest AQAP plot against the West, involving an underwear bomb that is nearly undetectable and was to be detonated on an airliner, was foiled earlier this month. The terror group has planned 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.