Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula mounted a complex attack, which included suicide bombers and an assault from the sea, against a Yemeni Army base in Shaqra in the south of the country today.
AQAP launched the first wave of the attack on the headquarters of the 115th Infantry Brigade at dawn. At least four AQAP fighters dressed in military uniforms, armed with assault rifles and suicide vests, drove a pickup truck bearing military license plates through several checkpoints. Three of the fighters then dismounted the truck and opened fire on Yemeni troops, while the driver of the truck drove into a group of soldiers and detonated the explosives-packed vehicle. Another group of AQAP fighters then launched an assault on the base from the sea but was beaten back by Yemeni troops.
Fourteen Yemeni soldiers, including the brigade’s operations officer and two staff colonels, were killed during the fighting and in the blasts; 12 AQAP fighters were also killed during the assault.
From May 2011 until May of this year, when the Yemeni military, backed by US air and intelligence assets, began retaking control of the south, AQAP controlled Shaqra and many other cities and towns in Abyan and Shabwa provinces. AQAP and the Yemeni military fought pitched battles in these provinces before AQAP withdrew its forces and regrouped in areas such as Jaar and Al Mahfad.
In June, after withdrawing from Jaar, AQAP released a statement in which it vowed to take the fight into “the cities of the enemy and its capitals.” AQAP said it withdrew from Jaar to spare civilians and preserve its forces. AQAP also railed against the Yemeni government for taking assistance from “the foreigners from among the Americans, the French, the British and other Crusaders” who “are assisted by some of our own people from the agents, hypocrites and apostates ….”
After releasing the statement, AQAP launched an assassination campaign against military and intelligence officials, as well as leaders and members of the Popular Resistance Committees, the anti-AQAP tribal groups that helped the military oust the terror group from its strongholds in south. In late June, an AQAP suicide bomber assassinated Brigadier General Salem Ali al Quton, the commander of Yemen’s southern military district, who directed the offensive in the south. Since then, numerous other attacks have taken place in the south and in the capital of Sana’a. Just three days ago, an al Qaeda suicide bomber killed six Popular Resistance Committees militiamen in an attack on a checkpoint in Mudya in Abyan province
Additionally, AQAP has continued to strike at the Yemeni military in a series of raids and suicide attacks against bases in the south. In one of the largest attacks, in mid-August, an AQAP assault team launched a complex attack against an intelligence headquarters in Aden, killing 14 soldiers.
This year, the US has stepped up direct attacks against AQAP with a series of drone strikes. So far in 2012, the US has executed 34 drone strikes in Yemen, compared to just 10 last year. This year’s strikes have killed four top-level AQAP operatives. The last strike occurred yesterday, near Jaar in Abyan; nine AQAP operatives, including a local leader, were killed in the strike.