US drones killed an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula commander and five fighters in a strike today in northern Yemen near the border with Saudi Arabia.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched several missiles at two vehicles traveling in the Al Mahashma area in Al Jawf province, The Associated Press reported.
An AQAP commander known as Saleh Hassan Jredan or Hassan al Saleh Huraydan is reported to have been killed in the airstrike, along with his brother and four other fighters.
US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf three other times in the past. Two of the three strikes targeted top AQAP leaders. In September 2011, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, and Samir Khan, an American who ran Inspire Magazine, 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.
The last US drone attack in Al Jawf took place on Jan. 22; the US killed four AQAP fighters in a strike on a vehicle as it was leaving a training camp in the desert in the province.
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 32 drones strikes recorded by The Long War Journal over the past 11 months, 27 have taken place in the provinces of Aden, Baydah, Al Jawf, Damar, Hadramout, Hodeida, Ibb, Marib, Saada, and Sana’a.
The US has launched 12 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last strike took place on June 1; the drone targeted a convoy of pickup trucks carrying AQAP fighters in the Al Mahfad area in the southern province of Abyan. Eight AQAP fighters were killed as missiles slammed into their trucks.
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.