Center for Strategic Communication

The US killed three suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in the first drone strike in Yemen in nearly three weeks.

Today’s strike targeted an AQAP training center in the Al Mahfad area of Abyan province, Xinhua reported. The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired three missiles at “two huts and a site used as a training center,” killing three fighters and wounding four more, some seriously.

AQAP fighters collected the wounded and drove them to Azzan in Shabwa province, according to Barakish. The site that was targeted was recently featured in an AQAP propaganda video.

The Al Mahfad area is a known stronghold for AQAP. In the spring of 2012, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and leaders regrouped in the Al Mahfad area after being driven from cities such as Zinjibar, Jaar, Lawdar, and Shaqra during a Yemeni military offensive that began in the spring of 2012 [see Threat Matrix report, AQAP regroups in Abyan province]. AQAP controlled the cities in Abyan, as well as other cities and towns in neighboring Shabwa province, after launching its own offensive in 2011.

AQAP remains entrenched in the Al Mahfad area despite several Yemeni military operations that attempted to dislodge the terror group. The US launched three drone strikes in the Al Mahfad area in 2013; one in May, one in June, and one in July.

Today’s strike is the first in Yemen since March 12, when US drones killed a local AQAP commander and his bodyguard in the northern province of Al Jawf.

Background on US strikes in Yemen

The US has launched eight strikes in Yemen so far this year. Four of those strikes took place in March, and three in January.

The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.

The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.

Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP’s top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP’s emir for Al Baydah province, during that time period.

For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2014.