AQAP launches multiple suicide assaults in southern Yemen

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed more than 50 Yemeni soldiers and policemen in a coordinated attack against military installations in southern Yemen today.

Yemeni officials said that 56 soldiers and policemen were killed and an undisclosed number were captured during attacks against military camps in Shabwa province, a known haven and stronghold for AQAP. Eight AQAP fighters are said to have been killed in the attacks.

The largest attack took place at a military camp “responsible for ensuring security at oilfields in Shabwa,” AFP reported. AQAP fighters attacked the camp at dawn, catching the soldiers off guard, while a suicide bomber driving a car laden with explosives was able to penetrate the perimeter. Thirty-eight Yemeni soldiers were killed in the fighting and the blast.

Another suicide bomber killed 10 more Yemeni soldiers in an attack at a military checkpoint in the Al Nushaima area of Shabwa. AQAP fighters are said to have captured an undisclosed number of Yemeni troops while other soldiers fled the fighting, AFP reported.

In Maifaa, AQAP fighters attacked a Yemeni special forces encampment, but were repelled by police. Eight policemen were killed during the fighting in Maifaa.

Additionally, AQAP is said to have failed in an attempt to attack the Balhaf liquid natural gas terminal on the coast in Shabwa. Balhaf has long been a target of AQAP.

AQAP controlled Shabwa province, including the provincial capital of Zinjibar, from May 2011 until Yemeni forces launched an offensive one year later to retake the lost ground. AQAP withdrew from the major cities as Yemeni forces advanced and were supported by US air power, including unmanned drones. AQAP retreated to remote areas of Shabwa and still control some rural areas. AQAP is known to have regrouped in the Al Mahfad area, where it is said to be running training camps, and in the eastern province of Hadramout. AQAP is also known to have safe havens in other areas throughout the country.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP’s emir who was Osama bin Laden’s aide de camp during the Battle of Tora Bora, also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager. His job description includes coordinating al Qaeda’s military and media activities, and communicating with al Qaeda’s “regions,” or affiliates, as well as with allies such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban [see LWJ report AQAP’s emir also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager].

Wuhayshi was at the center of a plot that was aimed at US diplomatic facilities in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The communications between Wuhayshi and other al Qaeda leaders and emirs from other groups allied with al Qaeda about plot were intercepted by US intelligence and led to the closure of more than 20 US diplomatic facilities across the world [see LWJ report, Recent embassy closures triggered by Zawahiri communications with multiple subordinates].

The disclosure of Wuhayshi’s role in al Qaeda and the shuttering of US diplomatic facilities undercut the Obama administration’s narrative that al Qaeda is on the verge of defeat.

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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