The US launched its fourth drone strike in Yemen in the past 10 days, killing four al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in an area in central Yemen that is known to host jihadists. The strike takes place as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is at the core of an al Qaeda plot that forces the closure of more than 20 diplomatic facilities across the Middle East and Africa.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched several missiles at a vehicle today as it was traveling in the Wadi Abeedah district in Marib province, according to the Yemen Post. The drones also struck a nearby compound, the news outlet reported.
Four AQAP operatives, including “an al-Qaeda leader,” are reported to have been killed in the strike on the vehicle. According to a tribal source, the dead included Saleh al-Tays al-Waeli and Saleh Ali Guti, AFP noted. Al Waeli was among those whose names appeared on a list of Yemen’s 25 most-wanted terrorists that was published yesterday.
AQAP leaders are known to operate in Marib. In June, the general director of Al Madina district in Marib Province claimed that top al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders Nasir al Wuhayshi, Said al Shihri, and Qassim al Raymi were present in his district.
The US has stepped up attacks in Yemen; today’s strike is the fourth in 10 days. The last strike, on Aug. 1, killed five AQAP fighters in the eastern province of Hadramout. On July 30, US drones killed three AQAP fighters, including a Saudi operative, in a strike in Shabwa province; a mid-level AQAP commander is reported to have been killed in the strike. 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.
The recent spike in attacks is likely related to the terror warning by the US that led to the closure of diplomatic facilities in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. US officials said they have intercepted communications between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP’s leader and al Qaeda’s general manager.
The strike also took place the day after the Yemeni government issued rewards of five million Yemeni Rials (an estimated $23,000) for 25 AQAP operatives who are “planning to carryout operations in the capital, Sana’a.”
“The Yemeni government has taken all necessary precautions to secure diplomatic facilities, vital installations and strategic assets,” according to a statement released by the Yemeni government.
Topping the list are Ibrahim Sulaiman al Rubaish, AQAP’s leading ideologue and theologian and a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, and Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri, the terror group’s top bomb maker who has designed devices that are said to be undetectable by traditional screening methods.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
The US has launched 16 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 not only senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, but also 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.