The Yemeni military killed at least 37 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters during recent operations in the southern province of Shabwa. Among those killed were fighters from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Russia, and Somalia, Yemeni officials said.
The fighting in the Maifa district of Shabwa, which is part of a wide Yemeni military offensive to root out AQAP strongholds in the southern provinces, took place over the weekend.
“Most of those militants are from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somali, [the Russian Republic of] Chechnya and other countries,” a Yemeni official told SABA, the state-run Yemen News Agency.
Five of the Saudis who were killed in the fighting were identified as Ubadah al Sharori, Abdulrahman al Hutti, Abu Ubaidah Malek al Makki, Hussien al Budwi, and Bin Hayzoun, according to 26 September, a newspaper run by Yemen’s Defense Ministry.
A Yemeni official told The Long War Journal that two fighters from Chechnya were identified as Abu Muslim al Shishani and Abu Islam al Shaishani. An Afghan whose name has not been disclosed is said to have been “dressed up like he was in Kandahar,” the Yemeni official said.
Since the launch of its offensive in the south early last week, the Yemeni government has stressed that foreigners are driving AQAP’s jihadist insurgency. Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi highlighted this when he claimed that more than 70 percent of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is made up of foreigners.
But a senior Yemeni official told The Long War Journal that President Hadi’s estimate of the number of foreign fighters in AQAP is far too high. The official said that although about 50 percent of AQAP’s leadership cadre is believed to be non-Yemeni, the number of non-Yemeni foot soldiers is thought to be about 25 percent. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s local political front, is thought to be non-Yemeni.
But the still relatively high number of foreigners in AQAP’s leadership cadre and the rank and file should not be surprising as AQAP, which was formed in January 2009, resulted from the merger of al Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni branches.
The presence of fighters from Somalia should come as no surprise as AQAP and Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia and East Africa, have provided support and manpower for each other’s operations for years.
And the presence of fighters from far-flung jihadist battlefields such as Afghanistan and the Caucasus also is to be expected. Fighters from these theaters are currently flooding the Syrian battlefield and have been spotted in remote areas of Africa such as Mali as well.