Yemen: AQAP seizes territory, drawing US drone fire

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters overran a military checkpoint at al-Milah in Lahj province of southern Yemen March 31, killing 17 soldiers during an intense battle that also resulted in the deaths of 13 AQAP fighters. The AQAP militants seized two tanks and other weapons. Yemeni warplanes killed three AQAP fighters while attacking one of the seized tanks; it is unclear if the tank was destroyed. AQAP fighters fell back to the city of Ja'ar in neighboring Abyan province, one of several towns now under AQAP control. Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, AQAP's political front in Yemen, claimed credit for the attack in text message, according to Reuters. "The holy warriors of Ansar al-Sharia this morning carried out the raid of dignity on the al-Hurur military checkpoint in Abyan, resulting in the deaths of around 30 [soldiers]," the statement said. (Long War Journal, March 31)

Presumed US drone strikes killed five AQAP fighters and one civilian in the city of Azzan in Shabwa province on March 29. One strike targeted a vehicle, and another a building apparently being used by AQAP fighters. AQAP took control of Azzan in early June 2011, after seizing Zinjibar, the provincial capital of neighboring Abyan province. The US has launched at least six strikes against AQAP in Yemen in March alone—in Ja'ar; in al-Baydah, Baydah province; and in Azzan. The CIA and the US military's Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 23 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009. (Long War Journal, March 30)

See our last posts on Yemen, the drone wars, and the Islamist reaction to the Arab Spring.

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US bombs Yemen —again

Presumed US drone strikes killed 21 presumed AQAP fighters in southern Yemen over the past days. Seven presumed AQAP fighters were killed as they traveled in a vehicle in Baydah province of Baydah on APril 14. Yemeni officials claimed the AQAP fighters were traveling to the neighboring province of Abyan, where government troops have been battling AQAP in the city of Lawdar for the past week. On April 11, a presumed US drone strike killed 14 AQAP fighters in an attack on a convoy in Lawdar. "Foreign nationals," or AQAP fighters from outside of Yemen, were reported to have been killed in the strike. (Long War Journal, April 14)

US bombs Yemen —again

The US claims that a CIA drone strike on Yemen's Wadi Rafad valley, Shabwa province, killed two al-Qaeda operatives—including Fahd al-Quso, a suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. (The Guardian, May 6)

AQAP behind underwear bomb plot?

The US is claiming a more definite link to AQAP in the supposed underwear bomb plot than last time around. This time around it seems "a CIA informant posed as a suicide bomber in order to persuade the al-Qaida branch in Yemen to hand over a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb" that was supposedly intended for use on a jetliner to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing. NPR, citing the LA Times, writes:

[T]he operation was a joint effort between the CIA and Saudi Arabian intelligence and once the informant received the bomb, he "arranged to deliver the explosive device to U.S. and other intelligence authorities waiting in another country, officials said Tuesday."

Officials have said that the bomber had been instructed by al-Qaida to choose a U.S.-bound flight to target but that the bomber, who we now know was a double agent, had not yet bought his tickets.

The informant is safe outside Yemen and the bomb is at the FBI's explosives lab in Quantico, Va. The bomb — a new, nonmetallic device designed in order to evade airport security — is thought to be the work of al-Qaida's top bomb maker, a 28-year-old Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

So we are left wondering how much of this plot originated with AQAP and al-Asiri and how much of it originated with the CIA. At a minimum, even if AQAP was designing the bloomer-bomb independently, they might not have been planning a big bang for the Osama death anniversary before infiltrator dude gave them the idea. Smells like it might at least slightly specious...