US military kills 5 AQAP fighters in central Yemen

The US military continues to target al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s official branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. On Oct. 21, the US said it killed five AQAP fighters in an airstrike in the central Yemeni province of Marib, where the group is known to operate.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced the operation in a statement that was released late yesterday, and noted that AQAP is still a dangerous organization.

“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a significant threat to the region and to the United States,” CENTCOM spokesman Major Josh Jacques said. “Al Qaeda’s presence has a destabilizing effect on Yemen, and we are working to deny them a haven from which to plan future attacks.”

AQAP has not yet announced the death of its fighters or leaders.

There have been three strikes against AQAP in Yemen so far this month. The two other strikes this month, on Oct. 4 and Oct. 18, both took place in Shabwa province, an AQAP stronghold in the south.

The US has stepped up its air campaign against AQAP in Yemen. There have been at least 31 airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen in 2016, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In 2016, the US has already exceeded the number of strikes of each of the three previous years (26 strikes in 2013, 23 each in 2014 and 2015). Since 2009, the US has launched 160 drone, missile, and conventional attacks against AQAP. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2016.]

The targets of the US air campaign have varied, as all aspects of AQAP’s network have come under fire. The US has killed senior and low level leaders and commanders, as well as fighters. Additionally, the US has hit training camps, military formations, and even equipment captured from the Yemeni military.

AQAP remains entrenched in southern and central Yemen despite the active targeting of the group and its leaders by the US for eight years.

AQAP still controls rural areas of central and southern Yemen despite both attacks from the US and a United Arab Emirates-led ground offensive, which ejected the group from major cities and towns that it held between March 2016 and the summer of 2016. AQAP is known to operate training camps in Yemen, and claims to do so to this day. In mid-July, AQAP touted its Hamza al Zinjibari Camp, which trains its “special forces.” Zinjibari was an AQAP military field commander who was killed in a US drone strike in February 2016.

The US military targets AQAP with the approval of Yemen’s government in exile. The government was forced to flee the capital of Sana’a after Houthi rebels overran it as well as several provinces in both north and central Yemen.

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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