The US military revved up aerial assaults against al Qaeda’s official branch in Yemen during the month of March. The US launched at least six airstrikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in areas in southern Yemen this month, equalling the total from the five preceding months, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.
The US has conducted four airstrikes in the provinces of Abyan, Shabwa, and Hadramout between March 26-28, according to press reports from Yemen.
The last strike took place on March 28, when US warplanes hit AQAP fighters stationed at “the headquarters of Brigade 27 near the city’s airport, an air defence camp and the house of the commander of the second Military Region” in the city of Mukallah, the provincial capital of Hadramout, Reuters reported. The number of casualties has not been disclosed.
The US carried out three airstrikes on March 26, including two in the villages of al-Hudhn and Naqeel al-Hayala in Abyan province, and another at an intelligence headquarters in Zinjibar – the provincial capital of Shabwa – according to Reuters. Fourteen AQAP fighters were reported to have been killed in the three strikes.
On March 22, the US killed at least 50 AQAP fighters as warplanes pounded an AQAP training camp in Mukallah. The AQAP fighters were reportedly lining up for a meal when the camp was struck.
And on March 4, the US killed four AQAP fighters after a drone struck a vehicle as it was traveling in Shabwa province.
The six strikes in March equals the six strikes by the US in Yemen between October 2015 and February 2015. The US launched zero strikes in October and November 2015, one in December 2015, two in January of this year, and three in February.
The uptick in strikes coincided with AQAP’s rapid expansion of control in areas in southern Yemen since the spring of 2015. The cities of Zinjibar and Mukallah are currently controlled by AQAP, as is Houta, the provincial capital of Lahj province. AQAP administers large areas in southern Yemen in the provinces of Abyan, Hadramout, Lahj, and Shabwa. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda seizes more territory in southern Yemen and AQAP provides social services, implements sharia while advancing in southern Yemen.]
The US has actively targeted AQAP leaders, operatives, and fighters in multiple airstrikes since 2009, but it has failed to halt AQAP’s advance in the south. Although AQAP has lost several key leaders in American drone strikes since early 2015, this has not slowed al Qaeda’s guerrilla war. Among those killed was AQAP’s emir, Nasir al Wuhayshi, who also served as a top official in al Qaeda’s global organization. Not only has AQAP continued to gain ground, it also quickly introduced new leaders to serve as public faces for the organization.
The US airstrikes have also not stymied AQAP’s focus on the West; AQAP masterminded multiple attacks against both the US and the West. Most recently, in January 2015, two AQAP fighters raided the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the heart of Paris, and killed 12 people. AQAP has also provided key technical support to al Qaeda’s other branches, including Shabaab in Somalia and the Al Nusrah Front in Syria.