US kills AQAP provincial emir in Yemen airstrike

US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced today that a provincial leader for al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen was killed in an airstrike on June 16.

CENTCOM said that Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) emir for the Shabwah province, and two associates were killed in a bombing that targeted “terrorist compounds and attack networks in Yemen.”

According to CENTCOM, Awlaqi “was a senior leader responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against civilians” and “had significant influence throughout AQAP’s terrorist stronghold” in Shabwah.

The now deceased AQAP leader was a member of the Awlaqi tribe, which has largely thrown in its lot with al Qaeda. One of its most infamous members was Anwar al Awlaqi, the US-born jihadist preacher who also recruited and organized AQAP’s external plots against the West. The US killed Anwar in a drone strike in Sept. 2011. His son, Adbulrahman, was also killed in a drone strike along with a senior AQAP leader two weeks later.

CENTCOM noted that AQAP maintains a “terrorist stronghold in Shabwah” and elsewhere in southern Yemen.

“In recent years, AQAP has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terror attacks against the US, its citizens and allies around the world,” CENTCOM said.

CENTCOM described AQAP as “a formidable terror group that remains committed and capable of attacking US citizens and the homeland.”

The US has ramped up counterterrorism operations in Yemen since President Donald Trump took office in January. While the exact number of strikes launched by the US since the end of January is unknown, CENTCOM announced at the end of April that “more than 80 precision strikes against AQAP militants, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment” had been carried out in the first months of 2017.

Additionally, the US has launched at least two ground raids against AQAP. One took place in Marib province in May and another in Al Baydah at the end of January.

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, the previous record number of airstrikes conducted by the US in Yemen in any one year was 41 in 2009. Last year, the US launched 38 airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen.

AQAP still controls rural areas of central and southern Yemen despite being attacked by both the US and a United Arab Emirates-led ground offensive, which ejected the group from major cities and towns it held last year. AQAP claims to still operate training camps in Yemen to this day. In mid-July 2016, AQAP touted its Hamza al Zinjibari Camp, where the group trains its “special forces.” Zinjibari was an AQAP military field commander who was killed in a US drone strike in Feb. 2016.

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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