US drones yet again targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in Yemen, this time outside the capital of Sana’a. The strike today is the fourth by the US in Yemen in five days. The US has expanded the drone campaign throughout all of Yemen over the past year.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers attacked a vehicle as it traveled in a rural area outside of Sana’a, according to Reuters. Six AQAP members are said to have been killed in the attack. No senior AQAP fighters are reported to have been killed in today’s strike.
US drones have struck AQAP in Sana’a one other time in the past. On Nov. 7, 2012, the remotely piloted attack aircraft killed Adnan al Qadhi, an al Qaeda commander who was involved in the attack on the US Embassy in Sana’a in 2008, along with two fighters. Al Qadhi commanded local AQAP forces in and around the capital at the time of his death.
Today’s strike in Sana’a is the fourth in Yemen in five days, and the fifth strike this month. The US launched two strikes in Marib province on Jan. 19 and Jan. 21; two Saudis are reported to have been killed in the Jan. 19 attack. In another strike, on Jan. 22, the US killed four AQAP fighters in a strike on a vehicle in Al Jawf province in northern Yemen.
The US appears to be launching several strikes over a short period of time, followed by weeks in which no strikes occur. Between Dec. 24, 2012 and Jan. 3, 2013, the US conducted five drone strikes in Yemen. But prior to the Dec. 24 strike, the last recorded strike by the US in Yemen took place on Nov. 7, 2012.
Additionally, over the past eight months, the US has begun to target AQAP outside of the traditional strongholds of Abyan and Shabwah provinces in the south. Of the 25 strikes against AQAP since the beginning of June 2012 that have been recorded by The Long War Journal, only four have hit AQAP in Abyan and Shabwah. The other 21 strikes have targeted AQAP operatives in the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Hadramout, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a. Of the 18 strikes that were conducted between January 2012 and the end of May, 10 occurred in Abyan and Shabwah.
In 2012, the US launched 42 drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia. The previous year, the US launched 10 drone and air strikes against the al Qaeda affiliate.
Although five senior AQAP operatives were killed in strikes in Yemen in 2012, the group’s top leadership cadre remains intact. Said al Shihri, the deputy emir of AQAP, is thought to have recently died from wounds suffered in a drone strike in December 2012, but the report has not yet been confirmed.
The US has targeted both senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, and low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the Yemeni government. This trend was first identified by The Long War Journal in the spring of 2012 [see LWJ report, US drone strike kills 8 AQAP fighters, from May 10, 2012]. Obama administration officials have claimed, however, that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting AQAP’s local insurgency against the Yemeni government.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2013.