The US killed eight al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in an airstrike today in the terrorist-controlled city of Jaar in Abyan province.
The early morning strike by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers targeted a convoy that is thought to have been transporting senior leaders of Ansar al Sharia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s political front, according to CNN. No senior leaders have been identified as being killed.
In addition to the strike that hit a convoy, The Associated Press reported that an airstrike leveled a home that housed five “militants.” Among those reported killed was “a senior member of the terror network in charge of armament.” It is unclear if the strike was carried out by US or Yemeni aircraft. Yemeni warplanes are said to have been conducting strikes in Jaar as well.
Jaar is a known stronghold for AQAP, and US drones struck in Jaar twice in March. One strike targeted a a weapons storage depot on Jabal Khanfar, a hill that overlooks the city. AQAP was moving weapons, including tanks, that had been seized during raids on Yemeni Army bases outside of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan.
Today’s strike takes place just four days after the US killed senior AQAP leader 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.
US strikes in Yemen
Today’s strike in Abyan is the second that is confirmed to have been carried out by the US in Yemen this month. 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 31 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including today’s strike in Abyan. [For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2012.]
Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 25 airstrikes in Yemen, with 15 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 of this year’s 15 strikes have killed a senior AQAP operative in Yemen. In addition to Fahd al Quso, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province on Jan. 31. Fatahani was involved in the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 US sailors, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US drones 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. 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.
Additionally, Abu Musab al Masri, an Egyptian jihadist who fought alongside AQAP, was killed along with several other foreign fighters in a US drone strike in the Karma area near Azzan in Shabwa province.
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, an underwear bomb that is nearly undetectable and was to be detonated on an airliner, was foiled this week. The terror group has plotted 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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.