The US killed an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula commander and four fighters in the second recorded drone strike in southern Yemen this month.
Earlier today, the remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired several missiles at a vehicle “in a mountainous area” in al Saeed in Shabwa province, according to The Associated Press. US drone strikes in Yemen routinely target AQAP leaders and fighters as they travel in vehicles.
Yemeni officials told the news agency that an AQAP commander known as Musaad al Habashi was among five AQAP members riding in the vehicle when it was struck by missiles. AQAP has not released an official statement on the strike or a martyrdom statement for al Habashi, whose role in AQAP is unclear.
Elsewhere in Shabwa province, the Yemeni military claimed it killed four AQAP fighters who “were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Naqba area in [the] Hibban district,” the state-run Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported. Yemeni forces also destroyed “a number of their cars and arms warehouses.”
Shabwa has been a hotbed of AQAP activity. The terrorist group took control of several areas in Shabwa and neighboring Abyan over the past year.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
The US has launched 14 strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last strike took place on June 4 in the AQAP stronghold of Wadi Abida in Marib province. A local commander known as Jafar al Shabwani and three fighters are said to have been killed.
An uptick in strikes in March and April of this year coincided with a Yemeni military offensive to dislodge AQAP from strongholds in Abyan and Shabwa provinces.
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, 2013, 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 Baydah province, during that time period.
AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a recent AQAP video featuring Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda’s overall general manager, he said America remains a target.
“O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America,” Wuhayshi said.
Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2014.