US drone strike targets AQAP in central Yemen
The US killed four al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters last night, in the third drone strike in Yemen so far this year.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired several missiles at a vehicle transporting AQAP fighters in Wadi Abida in the central province of Marib on Thursday night, a Yemeni official told Xinhua. The official said the strike was executed "in coordination with the Yemeni interior ministry."
Yemen's Interior Ministry confirmed that it "foiled an attempt by al Qaeda militants to seize some government institutions in Marib province," Xinhua reported.
Four people were killed and seven more were wounded in the strike. The Associated Press reported that "three suspected al Qaeda militants" were killed.
AQAP is known to operate in Marib province, and the US has targeted AQAP in Wadi Abida three times in the past. Two of the strikes took place in 2013 and the other in 2012. A few years earlier, in March 2008, Wadi Abida was identified as the base of an al Qaeda group known as the Yemen Soldiers Brigade. The group claimed credit for mortar attacks against the US Embassy, the Italian Embassy, and a Western housing complex in Sana'a in 2008.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
Last night's strike is the third by the US in Yemen since the New Year. The previous two strikes, on Jan. 8 and Jan. 15, targeted AQAP's network in the eastern province of Hadramout.
Thursday night's strike is the sixth in Yemen since Dec. 6, when AQAP penetrated security in a major attack at Yemen's Ministry of Defense in Sana'a. The suicide assault resulted in the deaths of 52 people, including foreign doctors and nurses, and 11 AQAP fighters. AQAP claimed that the assault targeted the US-run "operation rooms" for the drone program in Yemen.
The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.
The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.
Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP's top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP's emir for Al Baydah province, during that time period.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014.