Four al Qaida militants were killed and a number of others wounded by a suspected US drone strike in a southern province of Yemen, according to security officials there. Ever since the country’s new US-backed president assumed power early last year, there has been an increase in drone strikes in Yemen.
The drone strike occurred on Friday night in Al-Mahfad region in Abyan province, sources said.
Several missiles, including remotely piloted Predators and Reapers, were launched st a truck “carrying grenades and explosive belts” in the Al Mahfad area in the southern province of Abyan on Friday night. Four suspected members of al Qaeda were killed.
After being driven from cities such as Zinjibar, Jaar, Lawdar, and Shaqra during a Yemeni military offensive that began in the spring of 2012, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and leaders regrouped in the Al Mahfad area.
The US has launched nine drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last strike took place on April 21 in the Wadi Abida area of Marib province. Two militants were reported killed in that strike.
In 2012, the US launched 42 drone strikes in Yemen against al Qaida and groups linked to it.
According to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank, US drones strikes in Yemen surged from just 18 to 53 last year.
Yemeni officials said at least six suspected militants were killed in two drone strikes last month, while another six suspected al Qaeda members were killed this past January.
The claim by the Obama administration that the drones are targeting only those militant leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting against the local insurgency against the Yemeni government, is contradicted by the evidence.
In 2011, after an 11-month uprising took place that forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, al-Qaeda loyalists seized large swathes of the south and east, taking advantage of a decline in central government control.
With the support from US drone strikes, the Yemen government troops have since recaptured much of the territory, although al Qaeda in the Arabian Penisnsula (AQAP) retain bases in the desert east.
Yemen’s group of militants who have been the targets of these drone strikes, according to Washington officials, is considered to be the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda in the area, the jihadist network’s AQAP.
The AQAP jihadists were driven from the towns in Yeman last year, but they continue to fight government forces in the more rural areas of that country.
Despite the drone strikes by Washington and the Yemen government’s continued efforts to wipe out the AQAP, the jihadists still retain bases in the desert east and they continue to be a long-term threat to the country.
Written by: Douglas Cobb