By William Tucker
According to local reports, 11 people were killed in an airstrike near Lawdar, Yemen in Abyan province. One tribal leader speaking to Reuters claimed that four of the deceased were leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The same individual speculated that the airstrike was carried out by an unmanned U.S. aircraft. There is no independent confirmation of the identities of those killed, but Xinhua is reporting that three of the individuals were Al-Khadr Em-Soudah, Ahmed Mu’eran Abu Ali, and Abdul-Monem al-Fadhani. These three were all known members of AQAP, but it is al-Fadhani that has garnered the most attention. Al-Fadhani has been accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole and the 2002 attack on a French oil tanker.
AQAP has made gains in Abyan over the last year culminating in the occupation of several cities. In one case, AQAP had taken control of Rada’a, but withdrew after negotiations. This type of activity in the midst of a political struggle taking place in Sana’a would explain why Washington took the action it did. There are substantial risks in this type of engagement, however. The U.S. has become heavily reliant on unmanned aircraft in the last few years, especially in Pakistan. While they certainly have utility in Pakistan, the operating environment in Yemen is quite different. There is a much higher risk of civilian casualties, not to mention the lack of any ground force that could provide intelligence independent of local sources. Striking a few terrorist leaders is fine, but there must be a larger strategy to roll back AQAP’s influence. The ad hoc approach being employed by the GCC, Sana’a, Riyadh, and Washington isn’t working to stabilize the situation in Yemen – much to the detriment of the country.