US killed three ‘key’ AQAP leaders in Yemen

US forces killed three additional Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) senior leaders in airstrikes that took place in Yemen last month, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced yesterday. CENTCOM conducted more than 120 strikes in Yemen in 2017, but has only provided limited details on strikes against AQAP or Islamic State high-value targets.

CENTCOM identified the AQAP operatives who were killed as “key Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders.” Their responsibilities included “external operations facilitator,” an operative who paves the way for attacks outside of Yemen, an arms facilitator, as well as a member of its proselytizing council, according to the CENTCOM press release.

US forces targeted and killed Miqdad al Sana’ani, an external operations facilitator, on Dec. 15. The strike occurred in Bayda governorate, where the majority of publicized US strikes in 2017 occurred.

On Dec. 19, US forces killed Habib al-Sana’ani in the adjacent governorate of Marib. He served as an “AQAP deputy arms facilitator, who was an intermediary with ties to senior AQAP leadership and was responsible for facilitating the movement of weapons, explosives and finances into northern Marib and al-Bayda governorates,” according to the press release.

The next day, US forces killed Abu Umar al-Sana’ani, a member of AQAP’s dawah, or preaching committee, in a strike in Marib. CENTCOM killed two other AQAP leaders in the same governorate that day, according to an earlier press release. Mujahid al-Adani, also known as Mohammad Shukri, was an AQAP leader in Shabwah, whereas Abu Layth al-Sanaani was an AQAP facilitator. CENTCOM clarified that Abu Umar al-Sana’ani was killed in the same strike as Mujahid al-Adani, in follow up email correspondence.

The US also reportedly killed Abu Hajar al-Makki, who was described by AFP as AQAP’s “propaganda chief,” in a strike in Marib province on Dec. 20. CENTCOM has not confirmed his death. CENTCOM noted that it has targeted AQAP’s propaganda networks, successfully effecting their output.

The US has revved up its air campaign in Yemen to where operations are now at an all-time high. In 2017, the US launched more than 120 strikes against AQAP and the Islamic State in Yemen, nearly tripling the previous year’s total of 44. The US has targeted AQAP leaders, operatives, and other assets since 2009, but the group has maintained a persistent insurgency and at times has controlled large areas in south Yemen, including provincial capitals.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Alexandra Gutowski is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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