An American soldier was killed and three more were injured during a raid in central Yemen that killed a senior Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader and 13 other fighters. A number of civilians may have also been killed or wounded in the fighting.
Details of the raid are still emerging. According to Reuters, US special operations forces targeted the home of senior AQAP leader Abdulrauf al Dhahab in the remote district of Yakla. The district is in the central province of Al Baydah, a focal point of US military operations over the past month. Officials told the wire service that warplanes struck Abdulrauf’s home, then US troops descended from helicopters and clashed with local fighters. American helicopters destroyed other homes as the fighting intensified and the troops withdrew.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed the raid against an al Qaeda “headquarters” and said that 14 AQAP fighters and one US soldier were killed during the raid. Three more troops were wounded in the fighting, and another soldier was injured as a helicopter had to make a “hard landing.”
The reason for the helicopter crash was not disclosed. CENTCOM said that the aircraft was “intentionally destroyed in place” because it could not fly. AQAP claimed that “the mujahideen shot down an American Apache,” according to a statement obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group.
During the raid on Adbulrauf’s home, according to CENTCOM, American forces seized “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”
AQAP has vacillated on its reports of civilian casualties. The group first claimed: “Only women and children were killed in the raid together with some tribal leaders who have no connections to Al-Qaedah.” Then AQAP confirmed that Abdulrauf was killed in the raid and described him as a “martyr” and “holy warrior,” Reuters reported. Yemeni officials claimed civilians, including 10 women and three children, were among 30 people killed.
According to jihadi social media sites, the eight year-old daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, a radical cleric who was killed by the US in 2011, was among those killed. Jihadis affiliated with AQAP released a graphic photo set purportedly showing the bodies of multiple children and other civilians killed during the operation.
The raid in central Yemen is the first of its kind by US forces since 2014, when US special operations soldiers attempted to free hostages held by the terror group.
The US has stepped up its targeting of AQAP in Al Baydah province, which has become a hub for AQAP. All five American strikes that have been reported against AQAP in Yemen this year have taken place in the province. Seven of the last nine strikes reported since the end of Nov. 2016 have occurred in Al Baydah. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2017.]
Abdulrauf al Dhahab’s family members have been key players in AQAP
Abdulrauf has been on the radar of US intelligence in the past. The US has targeted Abdulrauf, whose family has held key positions within AQAP, at least one time in the past five years. On Sept. 9, 2012, a US drone targeted him as he was traveling in a car near the town of Rada in Al Baydah. He survived the strike. [See Threat Matrix report, US drones targeted local AQAP leader in Yemen.]
Abdulrauf’s brothers – Tariq, Kaid, and Nabil – have all held key leadership positions within AQAP. The Dhahabs were brothers-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, the US citizen who served as a senior al Qaeda operational commander and ideologue.
Tariq seized control of Rada in Jan. 2012. He released a videotape in which he swore allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda, saying “the Islamic Caliphate is coming.” His fighters flew the terror group’s banner over the town’s citadel. In Feb. 2012, Tariq abdicated control of Rada to local tribal leaders, including his brother Hazam, after they threatened to launch an offensive to retake the town. Later that month, Hazam killed Tariq. Tariq’s followers then retaliated and killed Hazam.
After Tariq’s death, Kaid and Nabil took control of AQAP’s operations in Al Baydah province. They were targeted by a US drone strike on May 28, 2012, but survived.
Kaid served as AQAP’s emir for Al Baydah after the death of Tariq and established a training camp for the terror group. The US killed Kaid in a drone strike in Aug. 2013 in Al Baydah.
The US killed Nabil, who became the emir for Al Baydah after Kaid’s death, in a Nov. 2014 drone strike. The bombing also killed Shawki Ali Ahmed al Badani, an AQAP leader who was involved in the 2013 plot that forced the US to close more than one dozen diplomatic facilities across the world [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Wanted AQAP leader involved in embassies plot, provincial emir killed in US drone strike.]
The US military has justified strikes and raids against AQAP by stating that the group remains a significant threat to America and its allies. AQAP has plotted multiple attacks against the US, including sophisticated attempts to blow up airliners.