US drones launched the first strike in Yemen in a month, killing four “militants” in an attack on a vehicle carrying explosives in a southern town plagued by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched several missiles at a truck “carrying grenades and explosive belts” in the Al Mahfad area in the southern province of Abyan on Friday night, AFP reported. Four suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the airstrike.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and leaders have regrouped in the Al Mahfad area after being driven from cities such as Zinjibar, Jaar, Lawdar, and Shaqra during a Yemeni military offensive that began in the spring of 2012 [see Threat Matrix report, AQAP regroups in Abyan province]. AQAP controlled the cities in Abyan, as well as other cities and towns in neighboring Shabwa province, after launching its own offensive in 2011.
Since losing control of large areas of Abyan and Shabwa, AQAP has spread out into the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Damar, Hadramout, Hodeida, Ibb, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a. Of the 29 drones strikes recorded by The Long War Journal over the past 11 months, 25 have taken place in the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Damar, Hadramout, Hodeida, Ibb, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a.
The US has launched nine drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last strike took place on April 21 in the Wadi Abida area of Marib province; two AQAP operatives were reported killed.
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 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.