The US killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone strike near a city in southeastern Yemen where the terror organization openly rules, and where the group’s previous emir was killed two months ago.
The strike, which was carried out by remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, took place today on a road outside of Mukallah, the provincial capital of Hadramout. Several missiles slammed into a vehicle, killing at least five fighters, according to Reuters.
The identities of those targeted were not disclosed. No senior terrorist leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) did not release an official statement naming those killed in the attack.
The US is known to conduct what are called “signature strikes” against AQAP in Yemen. These strikes are not based on specific intelligence that identifies the target, but are based on a pattern of intelligence that indicates a senior leader or operative may be present. AQAP’s founder and last emir, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was killed in one such strike on June 9 in Mukallah.
The US has also targeted AQAP’s military machine as well as its leadership nodes. In one strike, on July 11, a group of local AQAP commanders as well as a container packed with weapons were targeted and destroyed. This strike contradicted a US Department of Justice white paper that claimed the drone program will target only those AQAP operatives who “present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States.”
The US drone campaign in Yemen has centered on Hadramout province since AQAP overran Mukallah in April of this year. Of the 11 strikes that have been recorded in Yemen since the beginning of April, nine have occurred in Hadramout.
Hadramout is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and the province has become an AQAP bastion over the past several years. The jihadist organization regrouped in Hadramout and other provinces after losing control of major cities in Abyan and Shabwa provinces to government forces starting in late spring 2012.
The US appears to have obtained good intelligence on AQAP’s network in Mukallah. In addition to Wuhayshi, two other senior AQAP leaders and ideologues, Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish and Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, were killed in air raids in the city since April.
The drone campaign in Yemen has intensified since Wuhayshi was killed in mid-June. Prior to his death, the US launched seven attacks against AQAP in five months. Several low and mid-level local AQAP leaders are reported to have been killed in the operations. Since his death, the US has launched seven strikes in two months.