The US launched its second drone strike in four days in Yemen, killing three al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives today as they traveled in the south of the country.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched missiles at a vehicle carrying AQAP operatives as it drove through the town of Saeed in the southern province of Shabwa, The Associated Press reported.
Yemeni tribesmen told the news agency that “a known Saudi member” of AQAP was among the three fighters killed. The names of those said to have been killed in the strike have not been disclosed.
“The car in which the three were traveling — two Yemenis and a Saudi — was blown to pieces and all of them were killed outright,” a Yemeni source told AFP, which also reported that there were two cars traveling together; one of the vehicles escaped the strike.
Today’s strike is the second in Yemen in four days. The previous strike, on July 27, which is said to have killed six AQAP fighters in the Al Mahfad area in Abyan province, broke a seven-week pause in drone activity in Yemen.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
The US has launched 14 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year, but the pace of the strikes has decreased since last year. 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. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.
Although six senior AQAP operatives, including the group’s deputy emir, Said al Shihri, were killed in strikes in Yemen in 2012, the group’s top leadership cadre remains intact. Just two weeks ago, AQAP confirmed that al Shihri, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, was killed; he is thought to have died or to have been seriously wounded following a strike in October 2012.
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.