US launches cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen

The US military carried out cruise missile attacks against two al Qaeda camps in Yemen, killing several terrorist commanders and fighters as well as civilians.

The attacks, which took place on Dec. 17, were carried out in conjunction with the Yemeni military, who targeted al Qaeda bases in the provinces of Sana’a and Abyan. The Yemeni government and the US launched the raids after intelligence indicated that al Qaeda was planning to conduct attacks against Yemeni and US installations in the region.

Abyan is a known al Qaeda haven. The terror group opened a large training camp in Yemen this year, which reportedly housed more than 400 al Qaeda fighters from the Middle East [see LWJ report, “Al Qaeda opens new training camp in Yemen“]. Many of the fighters were Yemenis, Saudis, and Somalis.

The Yemeni government claimed 34 al Qaeda fighters were killed and 17 more were captured in the joint air and ground strikes. Muhammad Salih al Awlaqi, al Qaeda’s leader in Abyan province, and commanders Muhammad al Amburi and Munir al Amburi were also reported killed in the Abyan strikes, according to reports in Quds Press and Al

Qasim al Rimi, a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s shura, or executive council, was reportedly the main target of the strike. He is thought to have escaped. Al Rimi is a senior lieutenant to Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a senior US military intelligence official told the Long War Journal.

Leaders in Abyan disputed the government’s claims that only al Qaeda fighters were killed, and claimed more than 60 civilians have died in the strikes. Ali Husayn Ashal, a member of Parliament and a leader in the opposition Islah Party, accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government of intentionally targeting civilians.

“The government took pride in saying that some al Qaeda members have been targeted in this monstrous operation, while it knows very well where do these wanted elements move around,” Ashal said, according to Al “These elements move around openly and publicly before the government’s eyes. The government can, at any given time, target those who are believed to be outlaws, without inflicting dozens of innocent casualties.”

The Islah Party is closely aligned with the radical cleric Sheik Abdulmajid al Zindani, who has been designated a terrorist financier by the UN’s 1267 committee and labeled a spiritual adviser to bin Laden by the US Treasury. Zindani is also a close ally to the Yemeni government.

Saleh and the weak Yemeni government are also known to collude with al Qaeda, including using the terror group’s foot soldiers to battle the Houthi rebels in the North in exchange for safe haven.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula retaliates

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] has reportedly battled back after the cruise missile strikes and ground operations in Abyan. According to a report in Al Hayat, AQAP “raided government centers” in the Ludat district in Abyan.

Heavy fighting took place between AQAP and government forces, and AQAP apears to have gained the upper hand in much of the province. “Parts of the governorate, which is one of the hard-line groups’ strongholds, fell into the gunmen’s hands,” Al Hayat reported.

Latest covert strike in Yemen

The cruise missile strikes, which were first reported by ABC News, took place within a week after it was disclosed that US Special Forces have deployed to Yemen to work with the country’s army. The US has also recently deployed unmanned Reaper strike aircraft in the region, under the guise of supporting anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Reapers and Predators are used extensively in the covert US air war in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The US has conducted at least one other covert strike in Yemen. In November 2002, Abu Ali al Harithi, an al Qaeda operative who was the mastermind of the suicide attack on the destroyer USS Cole; Ahmed Hijazi, a US citizen; and four other al Qaeda fighters were killed in a Predator strike in Marib.

Yemen is an al Qaeda stronghold

Yemen has become one of al Qaeda’s most secure bases and a hub for its activities on the Arabian Peninsula and on the Horn of Africa.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen and carries out its attacks against the Saudi government from there. The group is also known to operate terror camps in Aden, and in the Alehimp and Sanhan regions in Sana’a. It has conducted attacks on oil facilities, tourists, Yemeni security forces, and the US embassy in Sana’a.

The terror group has also been instrumental in supporting al Qaeda’s operations in Somalia, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Yemen serves as a command and control center, a logistics hub, a transit point from Asia and the Peninsula, and a source of weapons and munitions for the al Qaeda-backed Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.

“Yemen is Pakistan in the heart of the Arab world,” one official said. “You have military and government collusion with al Qaeda, peace agreements, budding terror camps, and the export of jihad to neighboring countries.”

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



  • natej740 says:

    If we are hitting AQ in Yemen now that is awsome…..Don’t give these animals a place to hide hunt them down where ever they are.
    The Taliban Shura in Quetta is next.
    Bombs Away!!!

  • Ed Hart says:

    Mr. Roggio
    I think there is a necessary term that needs to be developed in this war. What would be a term for civilians that are not quite uninvolved or innocent, including family members, suppliers, non-combat collaborators, etc.?? A term that distinguishes such persons from true civilians would be very helpful as we redefine how this war is to be fought.
    Thanks for your excellent page…and for the hard work that goes with it.
    Ed Hart

  • Tyler says:

    Civilians are civilians is what I think Generals McChrystal and Petraeus would say.
    I’m inclined to support this op (provided it was in order to prevent an imminent Al Qaeda attack as it would appear to be) but we should resist blurring the lines between combatant and civilian anymore than our enemy already has.
    Nabhan, al-Somali, now the AQAP leaders. I’m sensing a pattern.

  • jav says:

    Ed Hart – regardless of what term we have for them…..remember the killings of american soldiers at the base in US? what if ‘civillians’ were targetted and killed aswell? Family members and friends of soldiers, who themselves, are not part of the military…… would they come under this new term of yours??? Thus rendering them a legitimate target. My advice, quit with the double standards. Our leaders have indulged in that sort for too many years. There are a hell of a lot more terrorists now then there was in 2001 – double ‘standardism’ i believe is a large contributing factor, the isreali-palastinian is a great example but thats a whole new topic

  • Peacock says:

    I agree, Ed: a term not only useful for discussion on this forum, but a term that would ideally attract broader usage and describe the results of strikes with greater clarity. But, anything I can think of is so generalized that it comes-off as either obfuscation or a weak euphemism.

  • AAndrew says:

    34 terrorists killed + 17 captured sounds pretty good to me. Actually, from my perspective, the 17 captured is the best part as each of them should have information that could be valuable in future activities.
    Who are they, where do they come from, who recruited them, who are their contacts outside this location, etc etc etc.
    I’m hoping that there are some high level captures among the 17. I like the terrorists dead, but I like them better captured. The captured can help lead us to future kills and captures.
    Good job by those involved! Keep up the pressure.

  • chris says:

    My knee jerk reaction is that the only way our prize winning POTUS would approve the action is that there was smoking gun, hard evidence of an imminent attack on US interests.
    There is no way that we would rely on Saleh or Yemen’s intelligence agencies given their on/off cooperation with major terrorist figures.
    POTUS is close to having to become an actual CiC. The dead bodies of “innocents” will be paraded in front of the cameras whether US actions were justified or not. The political operatives around POTUS will have to shut up or be cut out of the intelligence loop.
    I don’t think POTUS can take the pressure or loneliness of being so unpopular. After a few operations and lacking instant victory, he will blame the military and resume his natural inclination of retreat and use of criminal law to deal with the war. SOme of this is already evident in the ROE for Afghanistan where our warriors semed to be viewed as capable of good judgment when their lives are at stake. If ROE are not changed, near term US casualties will be higher than they might otherwise be.
    Tough place to learn on the job. I don’t see him making it past February as a war president

  • Nissonic says:

    Does the U.S have authorization to attack any country they see fit? Are there no restrictions?
    Al Queada and other islamic insurgent groups can hide anywhere in the arabic world…its not restricted to only Afghanistan.
    How can America fight the entire muslim world?
    What do you hope to gain?

  • the Good Fight says:

    I think the term you’re looking for is ‘sympathizers’.

  • Tyler says:

    To both extremes present here…
    Chris – The President thus far as a CiC has sent 50,000+ soldiers to Afghanistan, launched as many (if not more) drone strikes into Pakistan as the previous Prez ever did, authorized deadly force to free an American hostage held by pirates, sent Navy Seals into Somalia to kill Saleh Nabhan, may well have helped Israel blast a few Iranian weapons convoys in Sudan, and now we see has blasted an Al Qaeda camp in Yemen. You may disagree with a couple policies on principle, but its pretty clear he’s no knee jerk pacifist.
    And as to the ROE in Afghanistan: Thats McChrystal’s decision. He feels only through strict ROE can we begin to convince the Afghans our top priority is protecting the people, Perhaps the overriding reason he needed the additional troops was so we’d have the force strength to minimize the inherent risks of those ROE, which is why I was strongly inclined to support the surge.
    Nissonic – every country has a right to self-defense. And in this case the sovereign government of Yemen requested our aid. If there was solid intelligence that these terrorists were planning imminent attacks against US interests such as the Embassy or Navy ships, then we are absolutely justified in acting.

  • grh says:

    Nissonic and all others that are appalled at the US attacking Violent Extremist Organizations where ever they organize, train, equip and plan their depraved attacks against the civilized world:
    1. The US is not fighting the Muslim world; it is fighting Violent Extremists Organizations that exist to attack the US and its interest worldwide.
    a. The US is against Violent Extremist Organizations that want to kill, disembowel and cut the head off of every US person or use weapons of mass effect or all of the above.
    b. There is a big difference between being against Muslims and Violent Extremist Organizations.
    2. Article 51 of the UN Charter gives every sovereign nation the right of self defense
    3. If those that were attacked were plotting attacks against US interests then they invited such an attack. If those killed were responsible for past acts against the US, they invited such attacks.
    4. Have you considered that Yemen asked for US help? I am not saying it is an iron clad fact they asked for help. Just consider the possibility for a moment. I strongly asset Yemen asked for help.
    5. What do we hope to gain? Victory over the threat from Violent Extremist Organizations. As you are aware there is a very small percentage that cannot be stopped from depraved attacks against the civilized world. These were not fence sitters. They were committed to the core of their Violent Extremists Organization beliefs and therefore they must be stopped, physically.
    6. Finally, contemplate the world without the US for a moment?
    a. Who led saving Kuwait and the Kingdom of SA from the menace of Saddam? Yes, I acknowledge the contributions of our treaty allies and other friends. Again, who led this effort?
    b. What about the Balkans? Who led that effort after European dithering?
    c. What about Iraq, who freed them from Saddam? Another mass grave made public today  How many did he kill? Is the world better off with his regime?
    d. Who took down the Taliban?
    e. Who came to the aid of the S. Pacific after the tsunami a few years ago? The world and the US
    f. Pakistan earthquake relief?
    g. Who led the effort to defend S
    outh Korea?
    h. Who led the effort to defeat the Axis during WW II that led to a complete collapse over the colonial system over the next 20-30 years and ushered in newly free nations?
    i. Who led the effort to defeat the USSR in the Cold War (WWIII in my opinion)?

  • Neo says:

    So in your mind, attacking a known militant group in coordination with local government forces is an indiscriminant and unrestricted attack not only on that country but on the entire Muslim world.
    I also might point out that Al Qaeda was not hiding in Yemen. They were operating out in the open. It seems the government of Yemen is willing to turn a blind eye to their activities until Al Qaeda targets the government.
    Of course using cruise missiles is bound to raise a big stink. There is no telling what the Yemeni government is going to do if Al Qaeda puts a lot of pressure on them. I could easily see the Yemeni government quickly back-peddling on it’s newest collaboration with the US.

  • Gerry says:

    I think the main efforts of militarily attacking insurgent groups would Afganistan, Somalia, Yeman, and Pakistan.
    These are areas that are lawless and a haven for insurgents (terrorists). These areas require military action as there is no police force avilable to deal with them.
    I’m sure, in most cases, there is a significant amount of cooperation with the governments involved, if there is a government.
    In those countries where a viable police force exists, the US would prefer to work with the country to prosecute those who would kill others for no purpose.
    The US is not ‘out to fight the entire muslim world’, its out to stop terrorism. Unfortunately at this time most ‘terrorists’ are muslim.
    Who are the Saudis fighting when they fight Jihadists, or the Iraqis, Jordainians, Egyptians?
    Crusaders? I think not.

  • mr. parker says:

    Al- Qaeda, like a communicable disease, must be destroyed anywhere it is found.
    It’s a gang that wears no uniforms, commits terror acts against legitimate governments and cowardly hides among civilians. These soldiers of allah blow up schools, hospitals and mosques, targeting people before or after prayers. They murder muslims who are not followers of their perverse theology.
    And yes, we are authorized to strike anywhere in the world and there are no restrictions. If you have any knowledge of al-Qaeda, please contact the nearest US embassy. Thank you!

  • TLA says:

    Actually, I can only see one solution to this war: and that is to hit the enemy where it hurts (to kill their ‘civilians’).
    They’ve made the Western concept of civilians a weapon, a defence, a target and, as such, their own civilians must reap the consequences. Their choice.

  • JZarris says:

    Maybe it’s time to bring back, “collateral damage”!

  • Bill Baar says:

    Is MSM really failing to cover this story, or am I just really out of touch with news over the holiday season?

  • Rhyno327 says:

    Wherever the cancer IS, its gonna be cut out. Whether its A-stan, PAK, or YEMEN..get used to it. We are in a war against “people” who want to destroy our country. So, expect to be hunted and killed…

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    A wise man once told me that “insurgents ARE civilians on the battlefield”. As such any discussion of rules of engagement needs to recognize the fact that in an insurgency RoE determine under what circumstances you can attack and kill civilians. When you think about it that way, restrictive rules of engagement make a lot of sense.
    These have been the first cruise missile strikes I’ve heard about in a while – I guess attack aircraft that could do the job better were unavailable for some reason? On the other hand, the Saudis have plenty of available attack jets that could presumably have carried out the strike, so this may be a way for the US to show tangible support for the Yemeni government.

  • Daniel says:

    Does the Al Qaeda have authorization to attack any country they see fit? Are there no restrictions?
    The US and other free nations can attack anywhere in the arabic world…its not restricted to only Afghanistan.
    How can Al Qaeda fight the entire free world?
    What do they hope to gain?

  • Civy says:

    Regarding ROE, if I killed half of your family due to a stupid error, shrugged and kept on keeping on, same rules, same risks, you wouldn’t support me for another day. This isn’t a theory. Travel to moonshine states and experience the cultural hatred of the ‘Feds’ and get a clue.
    Yes, on some missions people will get killed that wouldn’t otherwise, but hundreds of US servicemen will spared death an mutilation because hundreds of battles, otherwise fought, won’t be. This is exactly what happened in AnBar

  • KnightHawk says:

    “Is MSM really failing to cover this story”

    Not to the WH’s advantage to have this played up right now so they will largely bury it as they usually do with inconvenient truths.

  • Nissonic says:

    I cant answer all of you who replied to me individually.
    I know that the U.S have been playing the world police for good and bad…for half a century now.
    You did neutralize some foes like Saddam Hussein and I think that the world at the moment is better off with people like them offline.
    However when is it time to stop interveining in other countries buisnesses?
    I understand the pursuite of terrorist world wide and the hunt for Al qaeda and other islamic insurgents.
    I do know that Al qaeda and the some of the more extreme talibans are vicious. However look at it this way. During WW2 the germans and the japanese were the foes. Two important countries wich population was brainwashed by two extreme ideologies. What differs the combattants of those with the same vicious mind to those recruited into Al
    Qaeda? Is it some poor farmer in Afghanistan that have created Al Qaeda? Who is the mastermind behind the Al Qaeda operations? Whats his name?
    Does he have anything in common with Adolf Hitler or Tojo? What differs Al Qaeda from other extreme groups like the nazis? It has a strong leader and without it it will fall apart.
    Will there be a lecture about the rules of engagement and other moralic values in times of war? What are those moralic values when america faught against a superior army as the brittish during the war of independece or the so called justified war in Vietnam. Whos doing the autrocities?
    The leader who commands or the footsoldier in the field?
    Who massacrated poor villagers in Vietnam and who harrassed prisoners of war in Iraq? They were as innocent as the people you still morn at the world trade center towers.
    Al qaeda makes autrocities…so do the americans.
    The leaders command and leave the lower underlings to do the autrocities for them.
    There should be no restrictions where to strike then. Go and bomb any country you see fit because there you will find the “bad guys” a threat to the american people. As the poor farmers of Afghanistan are a serious threat to the americans in the U.S so was the poor farmers of Vietnam that performed numerous terrorist acts on american soil. Go to Vietnam and kill them all as a pay back.
    I hope I got the point clear.
    Underlings fighting underlings in the name of autrocity. Al Qaeda like any other group from the past has one leader or leadership that brainwashed the others to join their “cause”. It could be any as it has nothing to do with religion or Islam. Some might have as living in an ascetic manner like some rules of the Taliban. However bombing civilians is nothing related to religion. They use it as an excuse to wage their war. Hitler used some excuses to make his ideology and spread it to others.
    Go find the leaders responsible for the acts made by their servants, not them themselves. Search for Osama Bin Laden. My best bet is that hes hiding in the East Turkestan region of China. Hes not stupid enough to hang around in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
    Also look out for Somalia. With the islamic insurgents advancing rapidly it could be the new haven for islamic extremists or jihadists. It could be the new Taliban ruled Afghanistan on a comfortable distance to the arabic world…

  • FredP says:

    You make some good points especially in your references to Hitler.
    He like Bin Laden was underestimated. Had the West had the courage to deal with him and the Nazis in the early 30’s as we are now dealing with OBL and AQ countless millions, many of whom were civilians would have been saved.
    As for those advocating strikes regardless of civilian casualties please consider that like in Anbar civilians can be our best asset. More than that is it right to kill civilians? Frustrating as missing leaders is I believe our best course is the high road.
    Be patient, AQ, like the Nazis only has a chance if they take over a mainline Muslim country. Despite all the uncertainty in Pakistan they are not close to accomplishing this goal. If the day comes when they do, well then many civilians will be killed.
    If we keep the pressure up and fight the good fight we will win this. Muslims, despite being slow to realize who the bad guys are cannot ignore the daily killings of their own by AQ.
    As for finding OBL, by all means but for now we don’t know but keep in mind he cannot effect a thing w/o his captains which must killed and captured(We will regret not having Gitmo) where ever they are. Eventually, AQ will be forced to make the fatal error.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    The historic import of our campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were to turn the pathological element of violent Salafism back on the Islamic world.
    It’s your garbage pal. You take it out.

  • Nissonic says:

    I stoped reading your reply when I saw that you mocked me!
    Im from Sweden and I’m ignorant in the subject. At least Im involved. Most swedes dont give a damn about America or its politics.
    Also you have the advantage of english. My first languages is something else…
    If you want to reply to me do it in a polite manner regardless of my ignorance…
    Publicly mocking me is nothing I will accept

  • Render says:

    I didn’t mock your multiple misspellings or your obvious lack of command over the English language. Actually, your English isn’t all that bad, at least it’s far better then my Swedish or Japanese would be.
    Thank you for confirming that you are indeed Swedish and I’ll grant you your ignorance on the subject. I suspect there are a lot more Swedes who do give a damn, one way or the other, about America and its politics then you’re claiming (I personally know several Swedes who do give a damn).
    Given that you’d repeatedly insulted my country and its military in just two comments you’re extremely lucky that I was as polite as I was. I’m very well aware of the history of the 5th SS Wiking Division so I’m not likely to be willing to hear a Swede sit in moral judgment of my nation or our military, ever. I’m certainly not going to stay quiet while a Swede questions the difference between the US military and the al-Q/Taliban axis.
    I didn’t post my response on my own blog just because it wouldn’t fit here, nor do I need the clicks on my ad-free bloglet. I posted it there because our discussion, such as it is, has no place on Long War Journal.
    I’m more then willing to help you overcome your ignorance on the subject, I’ll even help with your English lessons if you’d like. But I do feel the need to point out that the answers too many of your insulting morale equivalence questions can be found right here, in the archives of The Long War Journal and The Threat Matrix.

  • Nissonic says:

    Render: I know my English is poor. It has as you say multiple misspellings and a weird syntax. I can make myself understood that is all…
    However due to the grammatical structure of Swedish with for example 5-6 irregular noun suffixes for plural it will not be beautiful to hear foreigners try to command it. Not even after living here for 20 years!
    I’m here discussing the war against terrorism. I’m asking questions and telling you my viewpoints.
    Did I insult your country itself? In what way? Im talking about the wars it has conducted outside its own boarders.
    Al Qaeda made terrorist attacks on American soil and on American interests abroad. You make them up as “bad guys” wich I believe they are…to you.
    I made the example of the poor farmer population of Vietnam to make you realize that you have started wars against innocent people. If I’m ignorant then tell me what the purpose of the Vietnam war was about?
    Did the Vietnamese attack you?
    As a swede I’m used to insults to my country.
    Just the fact that people all over the world come here and live here for a better economical life and then call themselves “swedes” is insulting enough.
    This is not USA…its the old world…
    [email protected] this is my email if you wich to discuss anything with me that is off topic or does not fit here on LWJ…


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