The US military killed 15 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives in six previously unannounced airstrikes that took place throughout Yemen over the last four months. The US has now launched 37 airstrikes against AQAP in 2016, the largest yearly total since 2012 (41 strikes).
US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced the operation in a statement that released on Dec. 22, and noted that AQAP is “a Foreign Terrorist Organization with a history of attacks against the United States and its allies.” Previous CENTCOM announcements of attacks on AQAP described the group “a significant threat to the region and to the United States.”
The CENTCOM announcement listed nine strikes, with 25 AQAP operatives killed. However, three of the strikes were previously reported by CENTCOM. Fifteen AQAP operatives are reported to have been killed in the six new strikes.
CENTCOM acknowledged that one of the strikes, which took place on Sept. 29, was previously announced, but the number of AQAP operatives killed was updated from one to two, as “a hospitalized terrorist later died of those injuries.” The Oct. 18 and Oct. 21 strikes were previously reported by CENTCOM. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US airstrikes kill 8 al Qaeda operatives in central Yemen and CENTCOM Press release, Terrorists killed in U.S. Strike.]
The six new strikes took place in the provinces of Al Baydah (2 strikes), Marib (2), Shabwah (1), and Hadramout (1). AQAP is know to operate in all four provinces, and the US military has launched numerous strikes there since 2009.
The US has stepped up its air campaign against AQAP in Yemen. There have been at least 37 airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen in 2016, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In 2016, the US has already exceeded the number of strikes of each of the three previous years (26 strikes in 2013, 23 each in 2014 and 2015). Since 2009, the US has launched 166 drone, missile, and conventional attacks against AQAP. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2016.]
The targets of the US air campaign have varied, as all aspects of AQAP’s network have come under fire. The US has killed senior and low level leaders and commanders, as well as fighters. Additionally, the US has hit training camps, military formations, and even equipment captured from the Yemeni military.
AQAP remains entrenched in southern and central Yemen despite the active targeting of the group and its leaders by the US for eight years.
AQAP still controls rural areas of central and southern Yemen despite both attacks from the US and a United Arab Emirates-led ground offensive, which ejected the group from major cities and towns that it held between March 2016 and the summer of 2016. AQAP is known to operate training camps in Yemen, and claims to do so to this day. In mid-July, AQAP touted its Hamza al Zinjibari Camp, which trains its “special forces.” Zinjibari was an AQAP military field commander who was killed in a US drone strike in February 2016.
The US military targets AQAP with the approval of Yemen’s government in exile. The government was forced to flee the capital of Sana’a after Houthi rebels overran it as well as several provinces in both north and central Yemen.
Newly reported strikes in Yemen:
Sept. 23, one strike killed four AQAP operatives in Marib near al-Bayda.
Oct. 6, a strike killed two AQAP operatives in Shabwah governorate
Nov. 20, a strike killed one AQAP operative in al Baydah governorate
Nov. 24, a strike killed two AQAP operatives in al Baydah
Nov. 30, a strike killed three AQAP operatives in Hadramawt governorate
Dec. 13, a strike killed three AQAP operatives in Marib
Previously reported strikes in Yemen listed in the Dec. 22 CENTCOM announcement:
Sept. 29, in a previously reported strike, two AQAP operatives died after they were targeted in al Baydah governorate. Originally CENTCOM reported one death, and one injured in the strike. It is now confirmed that the hospitalized terrorist later died of those injuries.
Oct. 18, a strike killed six AQAP operatives in Shabwah
Oct. 21, a strike killed five AQAP operatives in Marib governorate