Local officials in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province reported that an American drone strike killed four al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters today including a local emir. Today’s strike is the first reported in Yemen in nearly three weeks.
The strike, which was launched by remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, targeted a vehicle traveling in the town of Bani Assaf in the Gol al Rayda district of Mayfa’a in Shabwa province, according to reports. Locals claimed that all the passengers in the vehicle were killed and that among the dead was an AQAP commander named Mahdi Badas, who also went by the nom-de-guerre Abu Hussein.
As commonly occurs following reports of a US drone strike in Yemen, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense claimed that the strike was carried out by the Yemeni air force. The ministry confirmed that AQAP commander Mahdi Badas was killed in the strike and described him as the “AQAP emir in Shabwa province.” The Yemeni military does not possess the capability to accurately target moving vehicles.
Shabwa has long served as a stronghold for AQAP fighters, and they are thought to be still active in the area despite a Yemeni offensive to root out the group from the southern provinces in late April. For instance, as recently as Oct. 14, AQAP carried out two attacks in Shabwa targeting both the local, pro-government Popular Committees and the Yemeni military, killing a Yemeni Army brigade commander.
Today’s strike is the first reported by the US in Yemen since Sept. 26. Two AQAP operatives were reported killed in the strike in the northern province of Al Jawf.
The previous strike, on Sept. 25 in Shabwa, reportedly killed Adel Hardaba, an AQAP commander, and Muhader Ahmad Muhader, a leader in Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s political front.
The US has launched 19 strikes in Yemen so far this year. The US ramped up its air campaign in Yemen in 2009, and has launched 103 air and cruise missile strikes in the country since the program was expanded. Prior to 2009, the US launched one airstrike, in 2002, against al Qaeda in Yemen.
The US continues to target AQAP, which is considered to be one of al Qaeda’s most dangerous branches, despite the virtual collapse of the Yemeni government. Shia Houthi rebels, who are not friendly to the US, have taken control of Sana’a, the nation’s capital, and the cities of Hodeidah and Dhamar over the past several weeks. The US has relied on the central government and Yemeni military and intelligence service to provide political support and targeting information to strike at AQAP’s network.