The United States’ air campaign in Yemen has shown no signs of slowing down. US forces conducted 12 airstrikes against terrorist groups in Yemen over the last month that were not publicly announced, FDD’s Long War Journal has learned.
Maj. Josh T. Jacques at US Central Command Communication Integration said yesterday in an email that “U.S. forces have conducted twenty-two (22) strikes against AQAP and ISIS-Y terrorists in Yemen 2018.” The US had conducted 10 counterterrorism strikes in Yemen when CENTCOM last issued a press release updating figures in early in February.
The latest data put this year’s number of strikes on-pace to fall just short of last year’s record surge. In 2017, the United States conducted a record 131 strikes in Yemen.
Major Jacques did not comment on the distribution of strikes between the two groups. The US began targeting the Islamic State in Yemen in Oct. 2017, which accounted for six of the 131 strikes that year. Since the beginning of 2017, the US military has released very few details about US strikes against AQAP in Yemen. Of the 125 strikes against AQAP in Yemen in 2017, CENTCOM only provided details on seven, all of which involved high value targets.
Despite an intensified air campaign by the US military, terrorist groups in Yemen continue to demonstrate their ability to conduct complex attacks, notably against the temporary capital of Aden. Yesterday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of a military headquarters in Aden. It conducted similar complex attacks in Feb. 2018 and Nov. 2017.
Additionally, AQAP continues to control territory in remote areas in southern Yemen and uses these bases to launch attacks against the Yemeni government as well as plot attacks against the West. In mid-December 2017, the US killed Miqdad al Sana’ani, who was described as an “external operations facilitator,” in an airstrike in Bayda governate.
Congressional leaders have increasingly scrutinized US military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition operating against the Iran-supported Houthi insurgency, a separate line of effort from the long-standing counterterrorism mission. AQAP and the Islamic State has thrived as the Yemeni government has battled the Houthis for control of the country.
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With only 12 bombing sorties a month sounds like it is just enough to keep AQAP/ISIS off balance from attacking the West, and not sufficient to seriously degrade their overall capability. One wonders if there is a problem with sufficient resources to this threat, for example, we are not hearing about simultaneous strikes, such as coordination of naval assets or working with capable allies on the ground to strike terror infrastructure. Just hitting replacable leadership targets may be indicative of a half-hearted and piecemeal approach that may come back to bite the US.