US military announces 3 new airstrikes in Yemen

The US military announced three previously undisclosed airstrikes that targeted al al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in southern Yemen over the past four months and killed 11 AQAP operatives.

US Central Command, or CENTCOM, issued a statement announcing four “counterterrorism strikes” in the Yemeni provinces of Hadramout and Shabwa between Feb. 3 and May 19.

The Feb. 3 strike killed six AQAP operatives in Shabwa, CENTCOM noted. This strike was previously recorded by The Long War Journal. Jihadists on social media claimed that Jalal Bala’idi, who is also known as Hamza al Zinjibari, was killed in the attack. Six AQAP fighters were initially reported killed in the strike, which CENTCOM confirmed. [See LWJ report, Senior AQAP commander reportedly killed in US drone strike in Yemen.

The second strike, in Hadramawt on Feb. 29, killed three al Qaeda operatives. The third strike, on March 30 in Azzan in Shabwa, killed three more AQAP fighters. The fourth strike, on May 19 again in Shabwa, killed four more AQAP operatives.

CENTCOM indicated that strikes against AQAP would continue as the group “remains a significant threat to the region, the United States and beyond” and is using Yemen as a base of operations for local and global attacks.

“Al Qaeda’s presence has a destabilizing effect on Yemen, and it is using the unrest in Yemen to provide a haven from which to plan future attacks against our allies as well as the US and its interests.”

“The US will not relent in its mission to degrade, disrupt and destroy al Qaeda and its remnants. We remain committed to defeating AQAP and denying it safe haven regardless of its location. Strikes conducted by the US in Yemen continue to diminish AQAP’s presence in the region,” CENTCOM concluded.

CENTCOM’s statement is at odds with President Barack Obama’s official policy of using drone and conventional airstrikes only as a last resort. In his 2014 speech at West Point, President Barack Obama said that the US would launch airstrikes “only when we face a continuing, imminent threat” from terrorist groups. However CENTCOM’s statement indicates the airstrikes are part of the effort to “degrade, disrupt and destroy al Qaeda.”

According to CENTCOM, the US has launched nine airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen this year.

However, The Long War Journal has recorded 18 airstrikes in 2016. The discrepancy may be due to the fact that CENTCOM may not have released all of its data. It is also possible that the CIA instead executed some of the airstrikes.

The US has ramped up strikes in Yemen this year after reducing the number from its peak of 41 in 2012, when AQAP controlled significant territory in the south. The operations were halved (26 in 2013, 23 each in 2014 and 2015) until AQAP went back on the offensive and took control of large areas in southern Yemen beginning by the end of 2015.

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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