US drone strike kills 6 AQAP fighters in central Yemen

The US killed six al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in the first drone strike reported in Yemen in more than three weeks.

Today’s strike, which took place in the Wadi Abida district in the central province of Marib, targeted a vehicle as it was driving in the village of Husoun al-Jalal, according to The Associated Press. Yemeni officials are attempting to identify the suspected AQAP fighters.

The exact target of the strike has not been disclosed. No AQAP leaders of operatives are reported to have been killed at this time. AQAP has not released an official statement on the strike.

The Wadi Abida of Marib province is a known haven for AQAP in central Yemen. The US has conducted five other drone strikes in Wadi Abida since October 2012. Two of those strikes took place this year, two occurred in 2013, and one was conducted in 2012. Twenty-eight AQAP fighters and two civilians are reported to have been killed in the six strikes, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.

Today’s strike took place as the Yemeni military has been on the offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in its southern strongholds of Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

The Yemeni military is reporting success during its operation to reclaim AQAP strongholds in the south. The military said it has retaken Azzan and the Al Maifa district in Shabwa as well as the Al Mahfad district in Abyan province. Al Mahfad has served as an AQAP stronghold and the location of a training center since mid-2012.

A Yemeni military official is claiming that security forces have killed and wounded hundreds of AQAP fighters and dozens of leaders during operations in the south since April 29.

Fighters and commanders from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Somalia, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and France are reported to have been killed or captured during the ongoing Yemeni offensive. [See LWJ reports, Saudis, Chechens, Afghans killed during recent fighting in southern Yemen, and Pakistani, Algerian, French al Qaeda fighters killed or captured during Yemeni operation.]

Background on US strikes in Yemen

The US has launched 12 strikes in Yemen so far this year. Four of those strikes took place in April, four took place in March, and three 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 Baydah province, during that time period.

AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a recent AQAP video featuring Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda’s overall general manager, he said America remains a target.

“O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America,” Wuhayshi said.

Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.

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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