US special forces raid al Qaeda compound in central Yemen

US special operations forces raided an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compound in Marib province in central Yemen earlier today and killed seven operatives. The operation took place just days after the US Treasury Department listed two tribal leaders from Marib as global terrorists for supporting al Qaeda.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said seven AQAP members were killed “through a combination of small arms fire and precision airstrikes.” No senior al Qaeda leaders or operatives were reportedly killed.

“Raids such as this provide insight into AQAP’s disposition, capabilities and intentions, which will allow us to continue to pursue, disrupt, and degrade AQAP,” CENTCOM stated.

As in previous statements, CENTCOM also noted that al Qaeda branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia “has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct, and inspire terror attacks against America, its citizens, and allies around the world.”

The US military has conducted at least one other raid against AQAP since President Trump took office. On Jan. 29, special operations forces targeted the home of senior AQAP leader Abdulrauf al Dhahab in the province of Al Baydah. Heavy fighting broke out as US forces entered the village. US forces killed Dhahab and one other senior AQAP leader. However, the raid was controversial, as a US Navy Seal and more than a dozen civilians – including the daughter of radical al Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki – were killed in the fighting.

Marib is an al Qaeda stronghold

Marib province is a known haven for al Qaeda. The first recorded armed drone strike took place in Marib in 2002. The US killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, al Qaeda’s operation chief in Yemen who was involved in the bombing of the USS Cole.

Since the US began its air campaign against AQAP in 2009, FDD’s Long War Journal has recorded 26 drone and conventional airstrikes against the group in Marib. Several mid-level AQAP leaders have been killed in Marib during the air campaign, which is ongoing. The US military has launched more than 80 airstrikes throughout Yemen so far this year.

One airstrike in Marib, in May 2010, was highly controversial. US drones killed Jabir al Shabwani, the deputy governor of Marib province, five of his bodyguards, and two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives, including a local leader. The strike took place as Shabwani was meeting with al Qaeda leader Mohammed Saeed bin Jameel in order to negotiate a peace agreement. Shabwani was the brother of Ayed al Shabwani, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Marib province, who was targeted by US drones on at least two other occasions.

Designations highlight AQAP’s tribal ties

Today’s raid in Marib took place just four days after the US Treasury Department listed two tribal leaders from the province as global terorirsts for supporting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On May 19, Treasury added Hashim Muhsin Aydarus al-Hamid and Khalid Ali Mabkhut al-Aradah to its list of specially designated global terrorists. In the designation, Hamid was identified as “a tribal leader in Yemen” who “regularly acted as an AQAP facilitator by assisting in the provision of weapons and money for AQAP.”

Aradah was described as “a tribal sheikh and senior AQAP official in Yemen who facilitates financial support to AQAP, to include support to AQAP leadership.” Aradah also runs “an AQAP camp.”

AQAP has been able to maintain a significant presence in southern and central Yemen due to it s strong tribal ties as well as an ongoing civil war that pits Shiite Houthis, the weak central government, and AQAP all against each other. AQAP has taken control of large areas of southern Yemen twice since 2010.

AQAP leverages Ansar al Sharia in an effort to gain local support. In a 2012, the US State Department amended its terrorist designations of AQAP “to include the new alias, Ansar al Sharia.”

According to State, Ansar al Sharia (AAS) “was established to attract potential followers to sharia rule in areas under the control of AQAP. However, AAS is simply AQAP’s effort to rebrand itself, with the aim of manipulating people to join AQAP’s terrorist cause.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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