US drones strike again in Yemen, kill 2 AQAP operatives

The US launched a drone strike against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula today in central Yemen, killing two AQAP operatives. The strike is the third recorded in the country in the past six days.

The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched several missiles at a compound in the Wadi Abida area of Marib province, Yemeni officials told AFP.

Tribal officials then said that two Yemeni troops and another AQAP fighter were killed during clashes that followed. “A cache of weapons was found at the site” of the strike, according to Reuters.

No senior AQAP operatives or leaders are reported to have been killed in today’s strike.

The strike in Marib is the third recorded in Yemen over the past six days. On April 17, US drones struck twice in the Oussab al Ali area, a mountainous region located between the provinces of Damar, Ibb, and Hodeida. An AQAP leader known as Hamed Radman and four fighters are reported to have been killed on April 17.

Over the past 10 months, the US has begun to target AQAP outside of the traditional strongholds of Abyan and Shabwah provinces in the south. Of the 28 strikes against AQAP since the beginning of June 2012 that have been recorded by The Long War Journal, only four have hit AQAP in Abyan and Shabwah. The other 24 strikes have targeted AQAP operatives in the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Hadramout, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a (it is unclear if the April 17 strikes took place in Damar, Ibb, or Hodeida). Of the 18 strikes that were conducted between January 2012 and the end of May, 10 occurred in Abyan and Shabwah.

The US has launched eight drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. In 2012, the US launched 41 drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia. The previous year, the US launched 10 drone and air strikes against the al Qaeda affiliate.

Although five senior AQAP operatives were killed in strikes in Yemen in 2012, the group’s top leadership cadre remains intact. In January, the Yemeni government claimed that Said al Shihri, the deputy emir of AQAP, died following an attack last fall; AQAP has not confirmed his death, however, and recently released a statement that hinted he may be alive.

The US has targeted both senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, and low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the Yemeni government. This trend was first identified by The Long War Journal in the spring of 2012 [see LWJ report, US drone strike kills 8 AQAP fighters, from May 10, 2012]. Obama administration officials have claimed, however, that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting AQAP’s local insurgency against the Yemeni government.

For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2013.

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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