US drones killed 11 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters, including an Egyptian, in a pair of strikes in central Yemen today. The US has now launched three airstrikes in Yemen in three days.
An Egyptian fighter, who was not named, was among six AQAP members killed in the first strike in an area of Marib province close to Shabwa, according to The Associated Press. Five more AQAP fighters were killed when the unmanned Predators or Reapers fired missiles at a car traveling in Marib. No senior leaders have been reported killed in the strikes.
Egyptian fighters have been targeted in previous US strikes in Yemen. Last month, 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. An Egyptian known as Abu Ayman was targeted in a strike in January 2010, but survived. And Ibrahim al Bana, AQAP’s media emir, was targeted in the October 2011 strike that killed Abdulrahman al Awlaki; Bana survived the strike.
The US has conducted three drone strikes in Marib province so far this year. The province has been a battleground between AQAP and government forces. Marib is one of several provinces with a strong AQAP presence and is known to host terror training camps.
US strikes in Yemen
Today’s strikes in Marib are the third and fourth that are 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 last strike took place on May 10; eight fighters were killed in the AQAP-controlled city of Jaar.
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 33 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including today’s strike in Marib. [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 27 airstrikes in Yemen, with 17 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 17 strikes so far this year. The most recent strike took place on May 6, when 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 drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province on Jan. 31. 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. 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 this week. 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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.