Senior AQAP leader killed in US raid in central Yemen

Purported image of the aftermath of the US raid in Al Baydah, Yemen. Released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

An American soldier was killed and three more were injured during a raid in central Yemen that killed a senior Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader and 13 other fighters. A number of civilians may have also been killed or wounded in the fighting.

Details of the raid are still emerging. According to Reuters, US special operations forces targeted the home of senior AQAP leader Abdulrauf al Dhahab in the remote district of Yakla. The district is in the central province of Al Baydah, a focal point of US military operations over the past month. Officials told the wire service that warplanes struck Abdulrauf’s home, then US troops descended from helicopters and clashed with local fighters. American helicopters destroyed other homes as the fighting intensified and the troops withdrew.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed the raid against an al Qaeda “headquarters” and said that 14 AQAP fighters and one US soldier were killed during the raid. Three more troops were wounded in the fighting, and another soldier was injured as a helicopter had to make a “hard landing.”

The reason for the helicopter crash was not disclosed. CENTCOM said that the aircraft was “intentionally destroyed in place” because it could not fly. AQAP claimed that “the mujahideen shot down an American Apache,” according to a statement obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group.

During the raid on Adbulrauf’s home, according to CENTCOM, American forces seized “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

AQAP has vacillated on its reports of civilian casualties. The group first claimed: “Only women and children were killed in the raid together with some tribal leaders who have no connections to Al-Qaedah.” Then AQAP confirmed that Abdulrauf was killed in the raid and described him as a “martyr” and “holy warrior,” Reuters reported. Yemeni officials claimed civilians, including 10 women and three children, were among 30 people killed.

According to jihadi social media sites, the eight year-old daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, a radical cleric who was killed by the US in 2011, was among those killed. Jihadis affiliated with AQAP released a graphic photo set purportedly showing the bodies of multiple children and other civilians killed during the operation.

The raid in central Yemen is the first of its kind by US forces since 2014, when US special operations soldiers attempted to free hostages held by the terror group.

The US has stepped up its targeting of AQAP in Al Baydah province, which has become a hub for AQAP. All five American strikes that have been reported against AQAP in Yemen this year have taken place in the province. Seven of the last nine strikes reported since the end of Nov. 2016 have occurred in Al Baydah. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2017.]

Abdulrauf al Dhahab’s family members have been key players in AQAP

Abdulrauf has been on the radar of US intelligence in the past. The US has targeted Abdulrauf, whose family has held key positions within AQAP, at least one time in the past five years. On Sept. 9, 2012, a US drone targeted him as he was traveling in a car near the town of Rada in Al Baydah. He survived the strike. [See Threat Matrix report, US drones targeted local AQAP leader in Yemen.]

Abdulrauf’s brothers – Tariq, Kaid, and Nabil – have all held key leadership positions within AQAP. The Dhahabs were brothers-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, the US citizen who served as a senior al Qaeda operational commander and ideologue.

Tariq seized control of Rada in Jan. 2012. He released a videotape in which he swore allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda, saying “the Islamic Caliphate is coming.” His fighters flew the terror group’s banner over the town’s citadel. In Feb. 2012, Tariq abdicated control of Rada to local tribal leaders, including his brother Hazam, after they threatened to launch an offensive to retake the town. Later that month, Hazam killed Tariq. Tariq’s followers then retaliated and killed Hazam.

After Tariq’s death, Kaid and Nabil took control of AQAP’s operations in Al Baydah province. They were targeted by a US drone strike on May 28, 2012, but survived.

Kaid served as AQAP’s emir for Al Baydah after the death of Tariq and established a training camp for the terror group. The US killed Kaid in a drone strike in Aug. 2013 in Al Baydah.

The US killed Nabil, who became the emir for Al Baydah after Kaid’s death, in a Nov. 2014 drone strike. The bombing also killed Shawki Ali Ahmed al Badani, an AQAP leader who was involved in the 2013 plot that forced the US to close more than one dozen diplomatic facilities across the world [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Wanted AQAP leader involved in embassies plot, provincial emir killed in US drone strike.]

The US military has justified strikes and raids against AQAP by stating that the group remains a significant threat to America and its allies. AQAP has plotted multiple attacks against the US, including sophisticated attempts to blow up airliners.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • Chris says:

    This is much better reporting than I got off the other news sites – if information gleaned from seized computers was the target then raid was justified, otherwise why not just bomb these evil bastards.

  • den says:

    Condolences to the family of our fallen warrior. God bless our military and all they stand for.

  • BB says:

    Seems like operation went quite bad. One special forces soldier dead and four injured. One apache helicopter, a public relation disaster with lots of civilian casualties including women and children. AQAP propaganda destroying one helicopter… >:(

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Military has to use plane and drone launched bombs on these remote targets in very hostile locations rather than have SEALs and other special ops soldiers land and attack on foot. We lost a courageous SEAL, had 4 wounded (3 SEALs and crewman on Osprey) and we lost the $200 million Osprey. All to kill a replaceable al Qaeda leader in Yemen. Most frustrating is that Obama celebrated releasing scores of these leaders from Gitmo.

    If Trump is going to expand our wars against ISIS and al Qaeda, it has to be quick & dirty and not conventional. Stop fighting the last war!

    • Trumpolice says:

      You do not gain intelligence by bombing, it’s a necessary risk to put boots on the ground. Had the US bombed, there’d be no laptop, no phones, no intelligence gathered. All that was gathered will result in saved American lives and more dead islamists. Other sources are comparing this raid to the raid on Osama Bin Laden as far as the treasure trove obtained. We lost a warrior and several were injured but it was for a reason. It’s refreshing to have a President visit the family of the fallen and acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice our war fighters make to keep our country safe from the enemies of the free world. God bless our war fighters, God bless America.

    • wolfgang says:

      “Most frustrating is that Obama celebrated releasing scores of these leaders from Gitmo.”

      Let’s give credit where credit is due . . .
      Number of Detainees released under President George Bush:
      Over 500
      Number of Detainees transferred, repatriated or resettled under Obama:
      197

  • Joseph carter says:

    This bunch needs a 10 megaton package dropped on them

  • gary bridson says:

    I guess they didn’t bomb because they wanted the intel….but still not worth a SEAL’s life …keep bombing I guess…

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