Multiple sources reported that a US drone strike on the evening of March 3rd 2017 targeted Sheikh Abdulilah al-Dhahab and four of his guards, all of whom were alleged to be AQAP militants, while they were travelling in Marib governorate. Some sources suggested that the strike took place on the outskirts of Marib, the capital of Marib governorate. There were no known reports of civilian harm.
Sources reported that al-Dhahab’s four guards were killed in the attack, but differed over whether al-Dhahab survived. Some suggested that he was injured in the strike, while others indicated that he was killed alongside his guards.
In January 2019, PBS Frontline published an interview with Abdulilah al-Dhahab, demonstrating that he had indeed survived this strike. Accounting for this, reported militant deaths have been set at four, with one reported injury.
Al-Dhahab was allegedly the target of two previous US strikes from March 2nd to March 3rd, both of which reportedly targeted his residence in Yakla, Bayda governorate. The second strike, which took place overnight from March 2nd-3rd, reportedly killed three of his extended family. Al-Dhahab was also a survivor of a US (and allegedly Emirati) ground raid on January 29th 2017 (USYEMTr006-C), which resulted in the deaths of at least twenty civilians, including eleven children. Reportedly amongst the dead were several relatives of Abdulilah al-Dhahab, including his son Nasser; his niece Nawar al-Awlaki; and two of his brothers, alleged AQAP militants Sultan and Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab. Multiple sources, however, disputed that the latter two were affiliated with AQAP, instead suggesting that they were instead involved with the pro-Hadi militia forces.
This strike allegedly took place amid a dramatic intensification of US operations against AQAP in March 2017. A US military intelligence source told NBC News that the strikes beginning March 2nd were “part of ‘new directives’ to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans”.
The incident occured during the night.
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from sources (3) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Ma’rib (مَأْرِب) city, for which, due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The coordinates for Ma’rib are: 15.469832, 45.325818
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
The U.S. military conducted precision strikes today in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to target the dangerous terrorist group that is intent on attacking the West, a Pentagon spokesman said.
With today's actions, the United States has carried out more than 30 strikes in Yemen since yesterday against the terrorist group, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.
"These counterterrorism strikes were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen," Davis said, adding, "U.S. forces will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization's plots and ultimately to protect American lives."
The results of the strikes are still being assessed, Davis said.
Aimed At Degrading Terrorist Capabilities
The aim of the strikes is to keep the pressure on the terrorists and deny them access and freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis said. "They've taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against the United States," he added. "We'll continue to work with the government of Yemen and our partners on the ground to defeat [the organization] and deny it the ability to operate."
The actions since have targeted militants, equipment and infrastructure in the governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah and will degrade the terrorist group's ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit its ability to use territory seized from Yemen’s legitimate government as a safe space for terror plotting, the captain said.
U.S. forces have not been involved in or near any firefights in Yemen since late January, Davis said. In that January operation, Navy Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
Extremely Dangerous al-Qaida Affiliate
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula remains an extremely dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, and is taking advantage of the chaos in the country from the civil war there, Davis said, noting that the organization “has more American blood on its hands" than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does.
Davis said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a "deadly terrorist organization that has proven itself to be very effective in targeting and killing Americans, and they have intent and aspirations to continue doing so."
The organization is integral to al-Qaida and remains intent on attacking Western targets, specifically the United States, a defense official said, speaking on background.
Total group strength in Yemen is in the "low thousands," the official said, adding that it remains a local and regional threat and directly contributes to the instability inside Yemen.
"This is a dangerous group locally, regionally and transnationally, to include against the United States, the West and our allies," the official said.
The terrorists have "skillfully exploited the disorder in Yemen to build its strength and reinvigorate its membership and training," the official said, noting that because members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula tend to be from Yemen, they can blend in with the tribes there.
There have been notable successes against the group, the official said, including killing some of its key leaders.
In other news, Davis updated reporters on progress in Iraq in liberating western Mosul from ISIS. Iraqi forces have cut across Highway 1, effectively isolating Mosul from the Syrian city of Raqqa, he said. Some areas in the north are still ISIS-controlled, he said, so Mosul is not completely severed from Raqqa.
"But in terms of having a road, that road is now cut," he said.