Local officials in Yemen’s northern province of Al Jawf told Arabic media outlets that a US drone strike killed two suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Friday evening. The strike took place in the Khasaf region, east of the provincial capital of Hazm.
Eyewitnesses claimed that the drone strike targeted a vehicle with two AQAP fighters on board as they were traveling from Marib province. The eyewitnesses reported that both passengers were killed on site. The identities of the two fighters has yet to be confirmed.
Sources also claimed that three young children, said to be brothers, have been injured as a result of the strike. The brothers were reportedly wounded while in the vicinity of their homes, close to the location of the strike.
Al Jawf is a known haven for top al Qaeda leaders. US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf six other times since the beginning of 2010. The last strike in the province took place on March 12 and killed a local AQAP military commander known as Moajab bin Aziz, as well as his bodyguard.
The previous strike, on March 5, killed Ali Saleh Juraym Al Olyan, a local al Qaeda commander said to have returned from fighting in Iraq, and three other AQAP fighters.
Two of the seven strikes in Al Jawf have targeted top-tier 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.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
Yesterdays strike in Al Jawf was the second in two days. On Sept. 25, the US killed five AQAP fighters in Shabwa province. Two of the fighters have been identified as as Adel Hardaba and Muhader Ahmad Muhader.
The US has launched 19 strikes in Yemen so far this year.
Fourteen of the drone strikes in Yemen this year have taken place between March 5 and June 14; the other five strikes have taken place since Aug. 7. The springtime strikes coincided with a Yemeni military offensive to dislodge AQAP from strongholds in Abyan and Shabwa provinces. AQAP remains active in the two provinces, as well as in other areas in central and eastern Yemen.
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 operations have been reduced as the US government faces 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 scheme, which led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.
Between July 27, 2013, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, 2013, 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 AQAP’s plan and take out its top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP’s emir for Baydah province, during that time period.
AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a video released earlier this year that featured Nasir al Wuhayshi, the terrorist leader said America remains a target.
“O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America,” Wuhayshi said.
Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2014.