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US military targeted al-Qaeda in Yemen 8 times in past 3 months

US Central Command (Centcom) has announced that the American military targeted al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen eight times over the past three months.

Centcom said in a statement that two of the strikes took place in Marib and Al Bayda governorates in January, including the New Year’s Day airstrike that killed veteran al-Qaeda operative Jamel al-Badawi, who planned the USS Cole bombing. The operation that killed Badawi ended a three month long pause in strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). Six additional strikes, all which took place in March, occurred in Al Bayda.

Centcom spokesman Lt Col Earl Brown said, “US forces are partnering with the Yemeni government to support ongoing counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and Isis in Yemen to disrupt and destroy militants’ attack-plotting efforts, networks, and freedom of manoeuvre within the region.”

The number of strikes targeting AQAP has decreased sharply from 131 attacks in 2017 to 36 in 2018. The reason for the reduction has not been disclosed by Centcom.

Possible reasons for the reduction in tempo include diversion in resources to aid the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition in its fight against the Iran-backed Houthis, and increased scrutiny of US operations that result in civilian deaths.

In mid-March, the US House and Senate voted to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, although the Trump administration has vowed to veto the bill.

Experts say that AQAP has remained a viable and lethal branch of al-Qaeda’s global network, despite a concerted US air campaign that has killed several top leaders and operatives and has targeted AQAP’s military capacity.

AQAP has taken over large areas of southern and central Yemen twice since 2011. It is not just a local jihadist insurgency but has played a key role in al-Qaeda’s global network. Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP’s previous emir, also served as al-Qaeda’s general manager.

Current AQAP leaders are believed to serve in senior positions within al-Qaeda’s general command.