The US killed four suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone strike today in southern Yemen. The strike is the second reported in Yemen this week.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired missiles at a vehicle as it traveled in Al Saeed in Shabwa province, Reuters reported. Four suspected AQAP fighters were killed in the attack, according to The Associate Press.
The identity of those killed in the US counterterrorism operation has not be disclosed. AQAP has not released an official statement announcing the death of senior leaders of operatives.
The strike is the second in Yemen this week, as well as the second so far this year. Last year, US drones hit 23 targets in Yemen. AQAP’s leadership has remained intact and the group has remained a threat to Yemen as well as the international community despite a concerted US air campaign that was ramped up in 2009. AQAP claimed credit for directing the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France.
The last strike, on Jan. 26, is controversial as one of the three purported AQAP fighters who was killed was just 13 years old. According to The Yemen Times, AQAP said that the 13 year old, identified as Mohammed Saleh Duaayman, was a member of the group and the family receives support from jihadist group after his father and another brother were killed in a US drone strike late last year.
“Mohammed’s family emphatically deny that he was a member of Al-Qaeda,” The Yemen Times reported. But “Their home is covered in Al-Qaeda flags …”
Both strikes this year took place after Houthi rebels overran the capital of Sana’a and forced President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the government to resign. Hadi was a staunch vocal supporter of US counterterrorism efforts, including drone strikes, despite local and international criticism.
The Houthis, a Shiite minority that is backed by Iran, is no friend of the United States. The group’s motto is “Death to America,” and it is expected that support for US operations will wane as Houthi influence grows.
Additionally, Sunni tribes who oppose the Houthi incursion into central and western Yemen may turn to AQAP in the absence of a Sunni-led government. Earlier this week, AQAP claimed it conduct joint operations, under the guise of Ansar al Sharia, its political front, against the Houthis in Marib. AQAP release a statement titled “Tribes of Marib and Ansar al Shariah Repel a Houthi Campaign in Marib of Northern Yemen,” which was obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group. AQAP claimed it assassinated a Houthi leader in Sana’a during the “campaign.”