More than fifty ISIS militants were killed in the course of US airstrikes on two ISIS training camps in Qayfa area, Al Bayda governorate, on October 16th 2017, according to a US Central Command statement released on December 20th 2017. At the time of the attacks, CENTCOM had reported killing “dozens” of ISIS fighters. There were no known associated reports of civilian harm.
This assessment relates to the US attack on Al Abil. A separate assessment covers the US strikes that day on Yakla.
According to the CENTCOM statement issued in December, the strikes constituted the first against ISIS in Yemen, which “used the camps to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training”. The two camps were about twenty miles apart, a US official told ABC News, and were targeted by both manned and unmanned aircraft.
This and earlier official statements confirmed reports that US airstrikes had targeted alleged ISIS militants in the Al Abil area early in the morning of October 16th.
According to several sources, including Al Masdar Online and @demolinari, local residents said that four strikes targeted the camp in Al Abil. Eight strikes reportedly targeted a second camp, in Yakla (YEMT102).
While the final publicised number of deaths in the strikes, according to the US, was “over fifty”, initial US statements indicated that dozens were killed in the course of the strikes across the two camps. Only two sources gave alternative casualty numbers. One, @MasadryNet, gave an initial report that five militants were killed, while the other, military analyst @DonKlericuzio, said that “about 34” had died.
Since no known sources gave specific casualty figures for the two strike locations, Airwars has split the US casualty figure of “over fifty” between USYEMTr105 and USYEMTr106. Some sources suggested that other alleged militants may have been wounded in the strikes, leading Airwars to assess that a minimum of two militants were reportedly injured. This figure has also been split between USYEMTr105 and USYEMTr106.
Locals told AFP that the camps were named after prominent ISIS figures. One was reportedly named after Abu Bilal al Harbi, described as the group’s Yemen chief, and the second after former global spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, who was killed in a US air strike in Syria in August 2016.
According to India TV News, local residents told Xinhua News that “large explosions” were heard and “cars rushed to rescue the victims”. The original reported Xinhua article could not be found. AFP reported that villagers were prevented by tribal leaders from approaching the area, “for fear of additional strikes”.
According to “tribal sources” reported by Aleshteraky, aircraft had been present in the area for three days prior to the strikes. One week previously, on October 9th, ISIS had released sixteen photos of militants training in the “Abu Muhammad al-Adnani” camp.
The incident occured in the morning.
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Reports of the incident mention a training camp being struck in the vicinity of Al Abil (العبل) village, for which the generic coordinates are: 14.612166983, 44.765174917. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
US Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
U.S. forces have conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes in 2017 to remove key leaders and disrupt the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training, and base of operations to export terror worldwide.
AQAP is one of the terrorist groups most committed to and capable of conducting attacks in America, as assessed by the intelligence and defense communities, while intelligence estimates indicate that ISIS-Y has doubled in size over the past year.
In November, the U.S. conducted 10 strikes across Yemen governorates al-Bayda, and Marib including a strike on Mujahid al-Adani, AQAP Shabwah leader, who was killed Nov. 20 in al-Bayda Governorate, Yemen. Al-Adani, also known as Mohammad Shukri, was a senior leader responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against Yemeni, Coalition and tribal security forces. He exerted significant influence within AQAP's terrorist attack networks, similarly, maintained close ties and access to the group's other senior leaders, and previously served as an AQAP military leader in Aden.
Al-Bayda AQAP facilitator Abu Layth al-Sanaani and three AQAP associates were also killed in the Nov. 20 strike.
Ruwahah al-Sanaani, also an AQAP facilitator, was killed Nov. 2 in Marib Governorate.
In October, a strike Oct. 19 killed Ubaydah al-Lawdari, the Emir of Lawdar, and four associates in al-Bayda Governorate. Al-Lawdari had been known to provide equipment and money in support of AQAP attacks against Coalition forces, posing an increased threat to U.S. interests.
Meanwhile, a series of strikes against two ISIS terror training camps in al-Bayda Oct. 16 killed more than 50 ISIS-Y combatants, disrupting the organization's attempts to recruit and train new fighters.
"The removal of key facilitators in this region will interrupt AQAP's freedom of movement and likely force the group into a reactionary posture, limiting their ability to challenge Yemeni Security Forces and partnered advances," said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a CENTCOM spokesman.
"U.S. forces also expanded counterterrorism operations in October to encompass both AQAP and ISIS. This parallel targeting effort is required to prevent ISIS-Y from filling the vacuum left by a diminished AQAP footprint or influence in the region," he said.
Ongoing operations pressuring the network have also degraded AQAP's propaganda production, reducing one of the methods for the terror group to recruit and inspire lone wolf attacks across the globe. The al-Masra Newsletter, previously published three times a month, has not been published since July.
Al-Malahim Establishment for Media Production, which produces AQAP's terrorist-inspiring video series, as well as Inspire Magazine, saw a large drop in October. Unable to produce video series and graphic terror-inspiring magazines, AQAP has resorted to using low-tech audio messages.
"U.S. forces have enabled regional counterterrorism partners to regain territory from these terrorists - forcing them to spend more time on survival," said Brown. "These operations have helped to illuminate terrorist networks, making intelligence-gathering, subsequent targeting and follow-on operations increasingly productive and effective.
"Every strike, every raid and every partnered operation advance the defeat of these violent extremist organizations. U.S. forces will continue to use all effective measures to degrade the groups' ability to export terror."