The US launched its second drone strike in Yemen in four days, killing two members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in an area in the central part of the country.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched missiles at the two fighters “as they left a farm on a motorbike” in the Khobza area of Baydah province today, AFP reported.
Two members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the airstrike. The Yemeni military identified the fighters as Abd Rabbo Mokbal Mohammed Jarallah al Zouba and Abbad Mossad Abbad Khobzi.
Al Qaeda maintains a foothold in Baydah
AQAP has increased its presence in Baydah province over the past several years, and the US has pursued the terror group with drone strikes. On May 28, 2012, the US targeted Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP’s emir in the province, and his brother Nabil, who is also a senior leader in the terror group, in a strike in the town of Rada’a.
Kaid took control of AQAP in Baydah after the death of his brother Tariq, who was the top AQAP leader in Baydah before he was killed in early 2012 in a feud with another brother, Hazam, a senior tribal leader in the town. Hazam was concerned that Tariq’s affiliation with AQAP would incur the wrath of the Yemeni government. Before he was killed, Tariq had seized control of Baydah, raised al Qaeda’s banner, sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, and warned that “the Islamic Caliphate is coming.”
Kaid and Nabil were tasked with regrouping AQAP’s forces in Baydah after Tariq’s death. The two leaders are also brothers-in-law of slain AQAP leader and ideologue Anwar al Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in the fall of 2011.
In January, US drones killed Mukbel Abbad, a senior AQAP leader in the province. Abbad was a brother-in-law of Tariq al Dhahab.
US expands drone strikes in Yemen
Since losing control of large areas of Abyan and Shabwa, AQAP has spread out into the provinces of Aden, Baydah, Al Jawf, Damar, Hadramout, Hodeida, Ibb, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a. Of the 30 drones strikes recorded by The Long War Journal over the past 11 months, 26 have taken place in the provinces of Aden, Baydah, Al Jawf, Damar, Hadramout, Hodeida, Ibb, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a.
The US has launched 10 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last strike took place three days ago in the province of Abyan; four 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.