US drones targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the third time in four days, with a strike aimed at members of the terrorist group in the northern province of Al Jawf.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched missiles at a vehicle as it traveled in the desert in Al Jawf province, according to Reuters. Four AQAP members are reported to have been killed in the attack.
The drones “targeted a gathering of al Qaeda members who had made the area a center for training,” a Yemeni official told the news agency. The province borders Saudi Arabia, and is considered a base for fighters crossing the border between the two countries.
US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf two other times in the past. Both strikes targeted top AQAP leaders. In September 2011, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, in an airstrike in the province. Awlaki sheltered at the homes of Islah leaders in Al Jawf before he was killed. And in January 2010, an airstrike targeted Qasim al Raymi, AQAP’s top military commander. He and other senior AQAP officials survived the strike.
Today’s strike in Al Jawf is the third in Yemen in four days, and the fourth strike this month. The US launched two strikes in Marib province on Jan. 19 and Jan. 21; two Saudis are reported to have been killed in the Jan. 19 attack.
The US conducted five drone strikes in Yemen between Dec. 24, 2012 and Jan. 3, 2013. Prior to the Dec. 24 attack, the last recorded attack by the US in Yemen took place on Nov. 7, 2012.
The US launched 42 drone strikes against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, in Yemen in 2012. 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. Said al Shihri, the deputy emir of AQAP, is thought to have recently died from wounds suffered in a drone strike in December 2012; however the report has not yet been confirmed.
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 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.