The US military reportedly killed three al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone strike in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan on the evening of Sept. 14. The US military has stepped up its campaign against AQAP, but has not been forthcoming about its targeting of the group as it has in Somalia.
The Sept. 14 strike took place in the Mudiyah district, a known safe haven for AQAP. The US military “targeted a motorcycle which the suspected militants were riding,” Reuters reported, based on comments from local Yemeni officials.
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, US Central Command (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.
That estimate has remained static. At the beginning of Aug. 2017, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis repeated the “more than 80 strikes” estimate while briefing reporters.
“Since Feb. 28 we’ve conducted more than 80 strikes against [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] militants, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment, and this is based upon the authorities granted in the operation that began” with a raid launched by US forces in late Jan.
FDD’s Long War Journal has inquired with CENTCOM for an accounting of the strikes in 2017, as US military previously had listed its operations targeting AQAP. CENTCOM responded that its “current procedure is to provide the total number of strikes and to provide information on AQAP leaders that are removed from the battlefield.” However CENTCOM did not disclose the exact number of strikes and said “the US has conducted more than 80 precision strikes.” CENTCOM suggested filing a Freedom of Information Act request if an exact number was required.
It is difficult to assess the number of strikes the US has launched in Yemen, as the US military is not the only actor operating in southern Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also conducting air operations in the south.
Despite the lack of clarity on the exact number of US strikes, and an estimate that has remained constant for five months, the US has launched more attacks against AQAP than any other year since the air campaign began in 2009. 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.