The US killed two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in an airstrike in eastern Yemen today. The strike is the sixth by the US in the past week, and takes place as the Yemeni government is intensifying military operations against AQAP strongholds in the south.
Today’s strike took place in the town of Shibam in eastern Hadramout province. Unmanned US drones, the Reapers or Predators, fired missiles at a vehicle as it was traveling in the eastern city, according to AFP. Two AQAP operatives were killed in the airstrike. The identities of those killed have not been disclosed.
Shibam is known to have an AQAP presence. On April 1, AQAP fighters overran an outpost in Shibam and brutally executed seven soldiers. The US has not conducted an airstrike in Hadramout province since the campaign began in late 2009.
The Yemeni military has launched an offensive against AQAP in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, as well as in Jaar and Lawdar, two other cities in the southern province. More than 20,000 Yemeni troops, backed by US CIA and military advisers and air and naval forces, are involved in the offensive.
AQAP is in control of Zinjibar and Jaar, and had a strong presence outside of Lawdar, where fighting has been heavy. Yemeni troops are also said to have entered Zinjibar. More than 150 Yemenis are reported to have been killed over the past several days.
US strikes in Yemen
The US has now carried at least seven drone strikes in Yemen this month; six of the seven have taken place over the past week. Other recent airstrikes are believed to have been carried out by the US also, but little evidence has emerged to directly link the attacks to the US.
The US conducted six airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen in March, and at least six more in April.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have conducted at least 36 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including today’s strike in Hadramout province.
Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 30 airstrikes in Yemen, with 20 of those strikes taking place so far in 2012. This year, the US appears to be targeting both AQAP leaders and foot soldiers in an effort to support Yemeni military operations against the terror group. AQAP has taken control of vast areas in southern Yemen and has been expanding operations against the government, with raids on military bases in locations previously thought to be outside the terror group’s control.
Three senior AQAP operatives have been killed in 20 strikes so far this year. The most recent strike that killed a senior AQAP leader took place on May 6, when the US killed Fahd al Quso in a drone attack in Shabwa province. Quso, who has been described as AQAP’s external operations chief, was involved in numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. The US obtained the information leading to Quso from a Saudi operative who had penetrated AQAP.
On Jan. 31, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province. Fatahani was also involved in the suicide attack on the USS Cole, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US also killed Mohammed Saeed al Umda (a.k.a. Ghareeb al Taizi) in an April 22 drone strike on a convoy in the Al Samadah area of Marib province. Prior to the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, he had attended the Al Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan. Umda served as a member of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard in Afghanistan before returning to Yemen, and was involved in the October 2002 suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006.
The pace of the US airstrikes has increased as AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, have taken control of vast areas of southern Yemen. AQAP controls the cities of Zinjibar, Al Koud, Jaar, and Shaqra in Abyan province. The terror group also holds Azzan in Shabwa province. AQAP seized control of Rada’a in Baydah province in January but later withdrew after negotiating a peace agreement with the local government.
US intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a direct threat to the homeland. The latest AQAP plot against the West, involving an underwear bomb that is nearly undetectable and was to be detonated on an airliner, was foiled earlier this month. The terror group has planned multiple attacks against targets in the US. A strike in Yemen last year killed Anwar al Awlaki, the radical, US-born cleric who plotted attacks against the US, and Samir Khan, another American who served as a senior AQAP propagandist.
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