The US military targeted al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen with a series of airstrikes over the weekend. Five al Qaeda “members” were killed in the central Yemen province of Al Baydah, according to the Department of Defense. The strikes are the first reported against jihadist groups in what the Obama administration has described as “areas of active hostilities,” meaning Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and sometimes Libya, since President Donald Trump took office.
The Pentagon noted the strikes at the end of a news article on the DoD website that focused on military operations against the Islamic State in Mosul and Ramadi. Initially, the military did not disclose the number of strikes that took place:
In Yemen, the United States conducted airstrikes from Jan. 20 to 22 in al-Bayda against al-Qa-da in the Arabian Peninsula operatives, killing five al-Qaida members in three days, Davis said.
“AQAP remains a significant threat to the region and the United States,” he said.
“Al-Qaida’s presence has a destabilizing effect on Yemen [in addition to] its using the unrest there to provide a haven from which to plan future attacks against the United States and other interests,” the spokesman said.
“We will continue to degrade, disrupt and destroy al-Qaida and its remnants, and we remain committed to defeating AQAP and denying it safe havens regardless of its locations,” Davis said.
The strikes conducted by the United States continue to diminish AQAP’s presence in the region, the spokesman said.
One day later, CENTCOM released a statement announcing three strikes:
On Jan. 20, one strike killed an AQAP operative in the al-Baydah Governorate.
On Jan. 21, one strike killed three AQAP operatives in the al-Baydah Governorate.
On Jan. 22, one strike killed an AQAP operative in the al-Baydah Governorate.
The US has stepped up its air campaign against AQAP in Yemen. The US launched 39 airstrikes against AQAP in 2016, the largest yearly total since 2012 (41 strikes), according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. There have been at least four strikes this year, including one on Jan. 8. That strike also took place in Al Baydah province.
The targets have varied, as all aspects of AQAP’s network have come under fire. The US has killed both 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 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 claims to still operate training camps in Yemen to this day. In mid-July, AQAP touted its Hamza al Zinjibari Camp, where the group trains its “special forces.” Zinjibari was an AQAP military field commander who was killed in a US drone strike in Feb. 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 the city as well as several provinces in both north and central Yemen.