Unmanned US Predators operated by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations command killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters during an airstrike in southern Yemen yesterday.
The strike took place in the Al Arqoub area east of Zinjibar, the embattled provincial capital of Abyan in southern Yemen, according to The Associated Press. Seven fighters were also wounded in the strike. The exact target of the strike has not been disclosed, and no senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders have been reported killed.
The US has stepped up counterterrorism operations, primarily through airstrikes, in Yemen, which hosts one of al Qaeda’s most effective affiliates. AQAP is in control of much of southern Yemen. While the government claimed it retook control of Zinjbar last month, the city is still contested. AQAP also controls the cities of Ja’ar, Shaqra, and Azzan.
The US government has decided to focus on a small core of AQAP operatives who focus on striking the US and is ignoring the wider AQAP insurgency in Yemen, according to a report in The Washington Post. The US would “fight AQAP only to prevent it from attacking the United States and its interests,” the newspaper reported. White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan put the number of AQAP fighters considered a direct threat to the US as “a couple of dozen, maybe.”
The US is known to have carried out at least 14 air and cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders and fighters since mid-December 2009. One other strike was carried out in 2002. Other recent airstrikes are thought to have been carried out by the US also, but little evidence has emerged to directly link the attacks to the US.
The use of US airpower in Yemen has increased significantly over the past year. Nine of the 14 strikes since 2009 have taken place this year. The last confirmed strike, on Sept. 30, killed American AQAP operatives Anwar al Awalki and Samir Khan. The Americans were top AQAP propagandists. Awlaki also served as a top ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander. Two other AQAP operatives, known as Abdul Rahman bin Arfaj and Mohammed Salem al Na’aj, were also killed. Senior AQAP bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri was initially thought to have been killed, but is now believed to have survived the strike.
The US military’s Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA are known to operate the armed Predators and Reapers from bases in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Bases are also being built in Ethiopia and an unnamed country on the Arabian Peninsula. The bases are to be used to attack al Qaeda affiliates Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Since December 2009, some of the top leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been targeted in US airstrikes, including Abu Basir al Wuhayshi, the group’s leader; Said Ali al Shihri, the second in command; Abu Hurayrah Qasim al Raymi, the military commander; Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, the top ideologue; and Awlaki.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2011. For more information on Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s rise in southern Yemen, and US counterterrorism efforts, see LWJ report, US ‘drones’ kill 15 al Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen.