US kills 2 AQAP fighters in drone strike in southern Yemen
The US launched yet another airstrike in Yemen, killing two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in a strike on a vehicle in southern Yemen. The strike, which took place late last night, is the latest in a flurry of attacks by the US in the past two weeks after a seven-week pause in strikes.
The strike, which took place in the southern province of Lahj, targeted a vehicle as it traveled "on a mountain road late on Saturday evening," Reuters reported. The vehicle was "believed to be carrying arms and its occupants were suspected members of al Qaeda."
No senior al Qaeda operatives or leaders are reported to have been killed at this time. The identities of the two al Qaeda operatives who were killed have not been disclosed. Two people were wounded and another escaped uninjured, AFP reported.
Today's strike in Lahj is the first reported in the southern province. The Al Anad airbase in Lahj has long been known to host the Reapers that are used to hunt al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders and fighters in Yemen.
The US has stepped up its drone attacks in Yemen; there have been nine strikes in Yemen in the past 14 days. The location of the strikes highlights AQAP's geographical reach in Yemen: three of the strikes took place in Hadramout, two in Shabwa, two in Marib, one in Lahj, and one in Abyan.
The recent spike in attacks is related to the terror warning by the US that led to the closure of diplomatic facilities in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. US officials said they have intercepted communications between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP's leader and al Qaeda's general manager.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
The US has launched 21 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. Despite the recent burst of activity, the pace of the strikes has still decreased since last year. In 2012, the US launched 41 drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia. The previous year, the US launched 10 drone and air strikes against the al Qaeda affiliate. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.
Although six senior AQAP operatives, including the group's deputy emir, Said al Shihri, were killed in strikes in Yemen in 2012, the group's top leadership cadre remains intact. Just two weeks ago, AQAP confirmed that al Shihri, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, was killed; he is thought to have died or to have been seriously wounded following a strike in October 2012.
The US has targeted not only senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, but also low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the Yemeni government. This trend was first identified by The Long War Journal in the spring of 2012 [see LWJ report, US drone strike kills 8 AQAP fighters, from May 10, 2012]. Obama administration officials have claimed, however, that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting AQAP's local insurgency against the Yemeni government.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2013.