In its first public update since early February, the US military has provided monthly totals and some details on American efforts to disrupt terrorist groups in Yemen. The United States has conducted 27 counterterrorism strikes in Yemen in 2018, but has only offered complete information on two. One of the attacks hit an AQAP training camp in Hadramout.
In addition to previously acknowledged strikes in Jan. 2018, the United States conducted:
– Feb. 2018: 6 strikes against AQAP
– Mar. 2018: 7 strikes against AQAP
– Apr. 2018: 4 strikes against AQAP
In a positive step for transparency, CENTCOM released the locations of three routine assaults against AQAP’s Yemen network. On Apr. 11, US forces targeted an AQAP training camp in Yemen’s eastern Hadramout governorate. On Apr. 23, a strike targeted an AQAP checkpoint that was established “for asserting regional control and raising illegal revenue” in south-central Bayda governorate. CENTCOM also acknowledged a Mar. 29 attack in Bayda due to reports of civilian casualties, but did not provide details on the target. In 2017, CENTCOM only released the location of AQAP strikes when a major leader was targeted.
CENTCOM also revealed a larger geographic distribution of offensives. According to the press release, assaults occurred in al Bayda, Hadramout, Zamakh and Shabwah governorates. [Note: Zamakh is not a recognized governorate. It is a district within Hadramawt governorate.] In 2017, CENTCOM publicly acknowledged strikes in Bayda and Marib, neighboring south-central governorates. AQAP’s reach eastward into Hadramout and Shabwah is concerning and reflects the resilience of the group, even after a large-scale Emirati operation to clear the east.
The presence of an AQAP training camp in Hadramout is also a worrying development. Despite an intensified drone campaign against AQAP and its rival, the Islamic State, the two jihadist groups have been able to establish and run camps in the war-torn country. Most recently, the US targeted two Islamic State training centers in Bayda governorate in Oct. 2017. More than 50 Islamic State fighters are said to have been killed.
The US has targeted AQAP training camps several times over the past four years including twice in Mar. 2014, Apr. 2014, and again in Mar. 2016. In its propaganda, AQAP claimed it operates training camps in Yemen. In mid-July 2016, AQAP touted its Hamza al Zinjibari Camp, where the group trains its “special forces.”
The press release also acknowledged the importance of Yemen to al Qaeda’s global ambitions, describing it as “one of the terrorist groups most committed to and capable of conducting attacks in the United States.” In 2018, a senior AQAP leader called for attacks against Americans everywhere. Also this year, Osama bin Laden’s son encouraged would-be jihadists to join AQAP.
Although the release of these details is an improvement, much more is required for adequate transparency. CENTCOM has not yet released the location, target, or even the exact dates of 24 of the 27 strikes conducted in 2018.