At least two alleged AQAP militants were reportedly killed by at least one US drone strike in Qifah, Bayda governorate, late on January 2nd-3rd 2018. Others suggested that a strike had killed two pro-government militia members and wounded others. There were no known associated reports of civilian harm.
One source, @demolinari, indicated that a US drone had launched two strikes in Qifah overnight from January 2nd to January 3rd, killing three “suspected AQAP militants”, all reportedly from Lawdar city, in Abyan. No other sources indicated that two strikes had taken place. According to this source, pro-AQAP channels published laments for militants Jarrah Al-Salmi and Abu Mohammed Al-Ibbi, also known as Safwan Al-Boani, and indicated that they were killed on January 2nd.
Some local-language social media sources, including @waelakram4, @AdenNowNews and @abu__sanad, also reported that an AQAP statement had said that two militants, named as Ahmed Abdullah Al-Qaheeh Al-Dian Al-Awlaki and Abdullah Ali Riqab Al-Dian Al-Awlaki, were killed by a strike in Qifah on January 2nd. It was unclear if those named were the same as the two alleged militants mentioned above.
Some sources further suggested that a US strike had killed two members of the pro-Hadi “resistance”, though it was unclear if this precluded AQAP membership. Social media sources @yemenat and @alraya_n, among others, specified that two members of the “resistance” had been killed by a US drone strike. AQAP members have sometimes reportedly fought alongside tribal militias against Houthi forces, leading to complex relationships between these groups and AQAP.
Yemen Now suggested that, according to local sources, “others” from the “resistance” were wounded in the strike, leading Airwars to assess a minimum of two belligerents reportedly injured. Given that four named fatalities were given by sources, the maximum number of reported belligerent deaths has been set at four.
One source, @MaxSecurityLTD, indicated on January 3rd that a strike had taken place in Dhi Kalb, in Qifah, though it is possible that this refers to an earlier strike on January 1st 2018.
In an email to Long War Journal, a US Central Command spokesperson confirmed that a strike took place against AQAP in Bayda on January 3rd. Since there were no known reports of other strikes in Bayda at that time, and given that the strike reportedly took place at night, this event is treated as declared.
The incident occured during the night.
Sources (16) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports on the incident mention the area of Qifah (قيفه), north of Rada’a (رداع) town, for which the generic coordinates are: 14.449335, 44.817596. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
In a major move toward transparency, US Central Command (CENTCOM) provided details to FDD’s Long War Journal on US air strikes against Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Since early 2017, the military previously provided little information on the Yemen air campaign, typically providing only an aggregate number and limited detail on high-value target strikes.
In an email to LWJ, CENTCOM’s Major Josh T. Jacques disclosed the dates and locations of the last five months of strikes in Yemen. The information revealed that since the beginning of 2018, the US campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen has focused on three governorates: Hadramout (eight strikes), Al Bayda (17), and Shabwa (three), demonstrating the eastern reach of the terrorist group.
Last year’s publicized strikes were concentrated in the central governorates of Al Bayda and Marib.
Location of US air strikes against AQAP and the Islamic State in 2018:
– Jan. 2018: Ten total strikes. The US conducted 8 strikes against AQAP in Bayda on Jan. 1, 3, 9, 12, 13, 20, 25, and 29. An additional strike against AQAP in Shabwah occurred on Jan. 26. An additional strike against the Islamic State occurred on Jan. 12 in Bayda.
– Feb. 2018: Six total strikes, all in Al Bayda governorate. Strikes occurred on Feb. 7, 11, 12, 16, and 24 (two strikes were conducted on Feb. 24).
– Mar. 2018: Seven total strikes, six of which occurred in Hadramout. Strikes occurred on Mar. 4 (two strikes), 5, 7, 8, and 13. An additional strike in Bayda occurred on March 29. [AQAP’s apparent entrenchment in eastern Yemen is concerning. In addition to the concentration of strikes in Hadramout, CENTCOM previously disclosed that AQAP operated training camps in the governorate as recently as April 2018, when they were targeted by American strikes.]
– Apr. 2018: Four total strikes, one each in Shabwah (April 26) and Al Bayda (April 23), and two in Hadramout (both on April 11).
– May 2018: One strike, in Shabwah on May 14.
– Jun. 2018: No strikes to date.
The US military has stepped up its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as well as the Islamic State since President Trump took office in 2017. Last year, the US launched 131 strikes (125 against AQAP and six against the Islamic State), nearly tripling the previous yearly high of 44 strikes in 2016.
At the current pace, the US will fall far short of that mark; there have been 28 strikes reported by CENTCOM in Yemen in the first five months of 2018.
This counterterrorism campaign has targeted AQAP’s infrastructure, including its training camps and media operations, which serve as a hub for al Qaeda’s global communications. The US has killed several mid-level AQAP leaders and media officials in its air campaign.
Despite suffering setbacks after seizing large areas of southern and central Yemen between 2015-2016, AQAP remains a persistent threat to both the embattled Yemeni government and US interests worldwide. AQAP still controls remote rural areas in Yemen and operates training camps. The group’s master bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, who has engineered several bombs which have evaded airport security, remains one of the most wanted jihadists on the planet.
Note: This article was updated to include the dates and locations of Jan. 2018 strikes.