The US launched a pair of drone strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula today in a remote area in central Yemen, according to reports. The strikes are the first recorded in the country since the end of January.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers attacked two separate targets in the Oussab al Ali area, which was described by The Associated Press as a mountainous region “located in the middle of three provinces of central Damar, southern Ibb and eastern Hodeida.”
The first strike killed four AQAP fighters as they were driving a vehicle in the area, Yemeni intelligence officials told AP.
The second strike killed Hamed Radman, who was described as an “influential al Qaeda member” who “played a role in recruitment.” A Yemeni witness in the area said that US drones were deployed over the village where Radman was killed for three days before striking.
Today’s strikes are the first reported in Yemen since Jan. 23, when six AQAP fighters were killed in an attack in Sana’a province. The US launched four other strikes in Yemen in January. Two such attacks took place 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. And, on Jan. 3, a strike in Al Baydah province killed a local AQAP commander and two fighters.
Over the past 10 months, the US has begun to target AQAP outside of the traditional strongholds of Abyan and Shabwah provinces in the south. Of the 27 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 23 strikes have targeted AQAP operatives in the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Hadramout, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a (it is unclear if today’s strikes took place in Damar, Ibb, or Hodeida). 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. In January, the Yemeni government claimed that Said al Shihri, the deputy emir of AQAP, died following an attack last fall; AQAP has not confirmed his death, however, and recently released a statement that hinted that he may be alive.
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.