US drones kill 4 AQAP fighters in Yemen

US drones killed four al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a strike in southern Yemen, in the second such attack in the country in four days.

The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired several missiles at a vehicle as it was traveling in the Wadi Abida area in Marib province tonight, officials said according to The Yemen Post.

An AQAP operative known as Sanad Oraidan al Okailim, whose brother was killed in Abyan province earlier this year, was among the four people killed in the nighttime attack, according to the Yemeni news service. A second vehicle arrived at the scene following the strike and its occupants removed the bodies of those killed.

The strike tonight was certainly carried out by the US-operated Predators or Reapers. Earlier this month, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi admitted that the nighttime strikes were carried out by the US “because the Yemeni Air Force cannot carry out missions at night.”

Today’s drone strike is the second in Yemen in four days, and the third this month. In the last strike, on Oct. 18, the US killed Nadir Haider Nasser al Shaddadi and eight other fighters in an attack on a compound outside of Jaar in Abyan province.

On Oct. 4, the drones fired several missiles at a vehicle as it was traveling in the Maqbala area in Shabwa province, killing four “heavily armed” al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives. A Yemeni journalist who is closely tied to AQAP later reported that Sheikh Abu Zubeir ‘Adil al’Abab, AQAP’s senior sharia official and the fourth-most important leader in the group, was killed in that strike.

US strikes in Yemen

The US is known to have carried out 35 airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen so far this year: one in January, six in March, six more in April, nine in May, two in June, one in July, five in August, two in September, and three so far 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.

Since December 2009, the CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have conducted at least 49 air and missile strikes inside Yemen, including today’s strike.

The pace of the US airstrikes increased as AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, took over vast areas of southern Yemen starting at the end of May 2011. AQAP seized control of the cities and towns of Zinjibar, Al Koud, Jaar, and Shaqra in Abyan province, and Azzan in Shabwa province.

In May of this year, the Yemeni military launched an offensive to retake the cities and towns held by AQAP. Hundreds of AQAP fighters, Yemeni soldiers, and civilians have been reported killed during fighting that liberated Zinjibar, Jaar, Shaqra, and Azzan.

Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 45 airstrikes in Yemen. This year, the US has been targeting both AQAP leaders and foot soldiers in an effort to support Yemeni military operations against the terror group. AQAP had taken control of vast areas in southern Yemen and had been expanding operations against the government, with raids on military bases in locations previously thought to be outside the terror group’s control.

Five senior AQAP operatives, including Sheikh Abu Zubeir ‘Adil al’Abab, have been killed in the 35 strikes so far this year. On Aug. 31, Khaled Batis, a wanted AQAP operative who is said to have been the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg, was killed in that attack.

On May 6, 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 information leading to Quso was obtained by the US from a Saudi operative who had penetrated AQAP.

The US 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.

And 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.

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 year. The terror group has planned multiple attacks against targets in the US. A strike in Yemen last year killed both 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.

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