Today the US launched the second drone strike in Yemen in three days. The strike, which took place in northern Yemen, killed a jihadist who fought in Iraq.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a vehicle as it traveled in the Khalka area of Al Jawf province province. Four “militants,” including a local commander known as Ali Juraym, were killed in the strike.
Yemeni news sources claim that Ali Juraym, whose full name is Ali Saleh Juraym Al Olyan, was an al Qaeda commander known to have returned from Iraq. Al Olyan was reportedly from the Al Sayda tribe hailing from the Al Jawf province in northern Yemen. Yemeni tribal sources said that they could not identify the other AQAP fighters who were killed with Al Olyan due to the severity of their injuries. They also confirmed that al Qaeda operatives arrived at the scene shortly after the drone strike to collect the militants’ remains.
Yemenis are known to fight in Iraq and in other theaters of jihad. In the past, the government encouraged its young men to fight in Iraq and then return to fight against the Houthis, a Shia rebel group in the north. In early 2007, a Yemeni newspaper counted more than 1,800 Yemenis who had traveled to Iraq for jihad; their families said the young men were trained by top-level Yemeni military commanders.
Al Jawf is a known haven for top al Qaeda leaders. US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf four other times since the beginning of 2010. The last strike in the province took place in June 2013. An AQAP commander known as Saleh Hassan Jredan, his brother, and four other fighters were reported killed in that strike.
Two of the five strikes in Al Jawf targeted top AQAP leaders. In September 2011, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, and Samir Khan, an American who ran Inspire Magazine, in an airstrike in the province. Awlaki sheltered at the homes of Islah leaders in Al Jawf before he was killed. And in January 2010, an airstrike targeted Qasim al Raymi, AQAP’s top military commander. He and other senior AQAP officials survived the strike.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
Today’s strike is the second by the US in Yemen in the past three days. On March 3, US drones killed Mujahid Jaber Saleh al Shabwani and two other jihadists in a strike on a vehicle in the province of Shabwa. Al Shabwani was on the Yemeni government’s list of 25 most wanted. The US has launched three other strikes in Yemen this year; all three were in January.
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.