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, and a member of its proselytizing council.
Backed by Saudi air power, Yemeni forces are advancing on a number of critical fronts including Yemen’s northern border and western coast.
One of the leaders “planned” the March 2015 Bardo Museum attack in Tunis, which was claimed by the Islamic State. Another serves as Shabaab’s deputy emir.
The pattern of operations in 2017 in what the Obama administration used to call areas outside of active hostilities indicates that the US will continue the reinvigorated air campaign in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya in the coming year.
The Houthis claim the missile used was a Burkan-2H, which recent evidence suggests is Iranian-supplied.
While announcing the strike, US Central Command provided a rare look into the targeting of AQAP’s network. Until now, the US military had provided few details on its efforts during 2017 to defeat the al Qaeda branch.
At the strategic level, if Iran’s provision of ballistic missiles to the Houthi rebels is confirmed, it could be seen as an indicator Tehran’s increased tolerance for risk in a distant conflict theater, one which has sought to weaken Saudi Arabia by any means possible.
The assassination of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh follows a strain in the opportunistic cooperation between his forces and the Houthis.