US drones kill local AQAP commander and bodyguard

The US killed a local al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula commander and his bodyguard in the fourth recorded strike in Yemen so far this month.

Today’s airstrike, which was carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, targeted a vehicle as it traveled in the Jebel Jame area in the northern province of Al Jawf. The strike killed a local AQAP military commander known as Moajab bin Aziz, as well as his bodyguard, according to reports.

Al Jawf is a known haven for top al Qaeda leaders. US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf five other times since the beginning of 2010. The last strike in the province took place just one week ago, on March 5. That attack killed Ali Saleh Juraym Al Olyan, a local al Qaeda commander said to have returned from fighting in Iraq, and three other AQAP fighters.

Two of the six strikes in Al Jawf have targeted top-tier AQAP leaders. In September 2011, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, and Samir Khan, an American who ran Inspire Magazine, in an airstrike in the province. Awlaki sheltered at the homes of Islah leaders in Al Jawf before he was killed. And in January 2010, an airstrike targeted Qasim al Raymi, AQAP’s top military commander. He and other senior AQAP officials survived the strike.

The US has stepped up the targeting of AQAP’s network in Yemen over the past two weeks after a more than five-week-long pause that began at the end of January. Since March 3, the US has executed four drone strikes inside Yemen.

The March strikes have killed five local AQAP military commanders as well as eight fighters, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In addition to the March 5 airstrike that killed al Olyan, the US also killed Mujahid Gaber Saleh al Shabwani in a strike in Shabwa on March 3, and Ebad Mobarak Al Shabwani and Ja’afar Mohammad Jaber Al Shabwani on March 10.

Background on US strikes in Yemen

In addition to the four strikes this month, the US has launched three other strikes in Yemen this year; all three were in January.

The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.

The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.

Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP’s top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP’s emir for Al Baydah province, during that time period.

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