At a press conference yesterday in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Yemeni military spokesman Colonel Sa’id al Faqih outlined the military’s latest statistics from the ongoing southern offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Faqih claimed that 500 AQAP militants have been killed and 39 arrested since the start of the offensive in late April. He also said that 40 Yemeni soldiers have been killed in the fighting and about 100 have been injured.
Faqih suggested that the offensive would not be limited to traditional southern AQAP strongholds, announcing that “the army has a comprehensive military plan that will be launched soon in order to pursue the terrorist elements fleeing from Shabwa and Abyan.”
The Yemeni government’s recent claim of killing 500 AQAP militants echoes a figure cited by AQAP emir and al Qaeda general manager Nasir al Wuhayshi in a letter written to the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in August 2013. In the letter, Wuhayshi admitted that AQAP had lost 500 operatives as a result of a Yemeni military offensive launched in May 2012 to retake territory in south seized by AQAP. Wuhayshi said, however, that the sacrifice was worth the cost and that AQAP was able to preserve its top leadership cadre while essentially fighting a rearguard action. Wuhayshi’s statement to the AQIM emir indicates that AQAP has a deep bench of recruits. Even if 500 militants have been killed in the current offensive, AQAP maintains a dangerous operational capability in Yemen.
In related news, local media sources in Shabwa reported today that AQAP attacked a security checkpoint around dawn this morning near the village of Beihan in the northwestern corner of the province. Reports claimed that AQAP militants had fired machine guns on the checkpoint and killed at least eight Yemeni soldiers and six members of the local Popular Committees cooperating with the Yemeni military. Security sources also said that five soldiers were wounded as a result of the attack, two of them in serious condition. Other reports claimed that 17 Yemeni soldiers and one civilian were killed in the attack.
The northwestern region of Shabwa province, where today’s attack took place, borders the central provinces of Marib and Baydha and has recently witnessed an increase of AQAP activity. Militants fleeing from the theaters of battle in Abyan and Shabwa regularly exploit such border areas to move ammunition, material, and personnel to safer areas. Just last month, Yemeni military warplanes targeted an AQAP convoy of three trucks near Beihan that was transporting weapons and ammunition from Shabwa to Marib.