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Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen
Part of the War on Terror
Date 1992[1]ongoing
(28 years)
Location Yemen
Status Conflict ongoing
Territorial
changes
Al-Qaeda loses last strongholds, maintains partial territorial control in Abyan, Al Bayda', Ma'rib, Shabwah and Lahij governorates
Belligerents
Ansar al-Sharia  Yemen

United States

Commanders and leaders
Nasir al-Wuhayshi

Said Ali al-Shihri
Qasim al-Raymi
Anwar al-Awlaki
Ibrahim al-Asiri
Abdullah al-Mehdar
Fahd al Quso

Yemen Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi

Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh
(1998-2012)
Yemen Mohammed Basindawa
Yemen Ali Muhammad Mujawar
(2007–2011)
Yemen Abdul Qadir Bajamal
(2001–2007)
Yemen Muhammad Nasir Ahmad Ali
Yemen Saleh al-Ahmar

Strength
500[3]-1,000[4] al-Qaeda fighters[when?]

400 al-Shabab fighters[5][when?]

Yemen: 20,000[6][when?]
USA: 20[6][when?]
Casualties and losses
at least 25 (2010)
at least 279 (2011)
at least 48 killed (January - March 2012)
at least 318 killed (since April 2012 and 2nd Battle of Lawdar) [7]
429 killed since May 12[8]

Total killed: 1099+

at least 96 (2010)
at least 290 (2011)
at least 248 killed (January - March 2012)
at least 54 killed (since April 2012 and 2nd Battle of Lawdar) [7]
at least 78 killed since May 12[8]

Total killed: 886+


United States: 17 sailors killed, 39 injured during USS Cole bombing
Saudi Arabia: 2 border guards killed[9]

39 civilians killed (2010)
85 civilians killed (2011)
3 civilians killed (January - March 2012)
at least 35 killed (since April 2012 and 2nd Battle of Lawdar)
at least 26 militiamen and 34 civilians killed since May 12 [8]
Total dead: 2,207+ (as of September 2012)[7][10][11][12][13][14][14][15][16]
AQAP often exaggerates government casualties, while not reporting their own. The death toll for members of the group is probably significantly larger than officially reported. Because of the chaotic situation in the country during the Yemeni revolution is it probable that military casualties during 2011 were also under reported.



The Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen refers to armed conflict between the Yemeni government with United States assistance, and al-Qaeda affiliated cells. The ongoing strife is often categorized as a sub-conflict in the greater Global War on Terror.

Government crackdown against al-Qaeda cells began in 2001, and reached an escalation point on January 14, 2010 when Yemen declared open war on al Qaeda.[17][18] In addition to battling al Qaeda across several provinces, Yemen is also contending with Shi'ite insurgency in the north and militant separatists in the south. Fighting with al-Qaeda escalated during the course of the 2011 Yemeni revolution, with Jihadists seizing most of the Abyan Governorate and declaring it an Emirate at the close of March. A second wave of violence occurred throughout early 2012, with militants claiming territory across the southwest amid heavy combat with government forces.

In May 2013, attackers blew up Yemen's main oil pipeline, halting the flow of crude oil.[19]

Background[edit | edit source]

Yemen has come under pressure to act against al Qaeda since attacks on its two main allies, Saudi Arabia and the United States, by militants coming from Yemeni soil. Previous attacks linked to al Qaeda in Yemen include the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, the 2008 American Embassy attack, and several attacks against foreign tourists.

Yemen had already intensified operations against al Qaeda in late 2009 when a Yemen-based wing of the group claimed to be behind the failed December 25, 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner, itself a retaliation against an attack against a training camp in Abyan on 17 December, killing many civilians.[20] News reports have indicated substantial American involvement in Yemeni operations against al Qaeda since late 2009, including training, intelligence sharing, "several dozen troops" from the Joint Special Operations Command, and direct involvement.[21][22]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Early insurgency (1998-2002)[edit | edit source]

Government crackdown (2009–2010)[edit | edit source]

  • December 17, 2009: Yemeni ground forces carried out raids in Sana'a (arresting 13), Arhab (killing 4 and arresting 4), and attacked an alleged training camp in Al-Maajala, Abyan, killing 24–50,[20][23] including 14 women and 21 children. According to ABC News, American cruise missiles were also part of the raids.[24][25] The U.S. denied they were involved in the strikes, despite evidence from Amnesty International.[22]
  • December 24: U.S. drones or missiles[26] struck an al Qaeda meeting in Shabwa, killing some 30 individuals. One target of the strike was Anwar al-Awlaki.[27]
  • January 4, 2010: Yemeni security forces killed two alleged militants a day earlier north of the capital.[28]
  • January 6: Yemeni forces arrested three suspected al-Qaeda militants who were wounded in a raid, that was carried out by security forces.[29]
  • January 14: A Yemen army air strike has killed at least six suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the north of the country, a Yemeni security official said.[18]
  • January 17: A radical Islamist Somali group claimed it was exchanging some of its fighters with those in Yemen. Yemeni militants are reportedly also sending fighters in return. This exchange in fighters shows the close links it has with the country of Yemen, an al-Shabab spokesman said.[30]
  • January 20: The Yemeni air force bombed the home of a suspected al-Qaeda leader, Ayed al-Shabwani, who the military had claimed was dead a week before this bombing. The attack on his home was reportedly met with anti-aircraft fire from his village. No figure on casualties has been released, for this latest attack.[31]
  • January 21: In order to "halt terrorist infiltration", Yemen decided to only issue visas through embassies, ceasing the practice of issuing visas to foreigners when they land at Yemeni airports.[32]
  • February 8: Al-Qaeda leader Said Ali al-Shihri released an online audio message calling for jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.[33]
  • March 16: Two Al-Qaeda militants who were killed in Yemen due to air raids carried out by the Yemen air force have been identified, government officials have said. A third suspected senior militant had also reportedly been killed in these raids. These bombing raids were carried out in the southern province of Abyan. It has been reported that these militants were connected to the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner last year. However it is not clear how many other people were killed in these air strikes.[34]

First Battle of Lawdar[edit | edit source]

Between 19 and 25 August 2010 the Yemeni army launched a major offensive in the city of Lawdar controlled by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Several activists including local leaders of Al Qaeda were killed during the clashes. On August 25 Yemeni authorities claimed to regain control of the southern town of Lawdar, a great part of which was in the grip of suspected Al-Qaeda militants during days of clashes with the army.[35]

Further attacks in Zinjibar[edit | edit source]

On August 25, gunmen on motorcycles attacked a military patrol in Yemen's restive south on Wednesday, killing four soldiers and wounding one, a security official said. The official said an early investigation indicated the attackers were members of al-Qaida, which lately appears to have stepped up high-profile attacks in the south of this impoverished country. He did not provide details. The attack occurred in the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar and brought to 53 the number of soldiers killed by al-Qaida since May, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.[36]

Battle of Huta[edit | edit source]

Battle of Huta
Date September 20–24, 2010
Location Huta (Shabwa) [37]
Status Yemeni victory
Territorial
changes
Yemen regains the town
Belligerents
 Yemen Flag of Jihad.svg al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Strength
300
Casualties and losses
~4 killed, 9 wounded 5 killed, 5 wounded, 32 captured[38]
15,000 Yemeni civilians flee, at least 3 wounded

On 20 September a number of militants attacked and took control of the village of Hota in the southern parts of the country, prompting the Army to counter-attack.[39] This happened as the top US counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan was on a visit to Yemen and discussed cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, according to the White House. Brennan met President Ali Abdullah Saleh and delivered a letter from Obama expressing US support for a "unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement. "President Saleh and Mr Brennan discussed cooperation against the continuing threat of Al-Qaeda, and Mr Brennan conveyed the United States' condolences to the Yemeni people for the loss of Yemeni security officers and citizens killed in recent Al-Qaeda attacks, " Hammer said.[40]

Al-Qaeda militants besieged in the southern Yemeni town of Hota were reportedly using residents as human shields in the second major clash between them and troops in recent weeks. According to officials "al-Qaeda elements are preventing residents from leaving Hota, to use them as human shields".[41]

The Yemeni Army destroyed five homes suspected of hiding al-Qaeda militants on September 22 as the siege of a southern village entered its second day, but officials denied reports that US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was among those surrounded, the AP reported. Earlier the same day an unofficial website run by government opponents had reported that al-Awlaki had been surrounded. However, the chief municipal official in the area, Atiq Baouda, and the security officials denied that he was in the area under siege. The Yemeni army refused to comment on the operation. A Yemeni news website later reported that state security forces had surrounded a group of suspected al Qaeda leaders in a south Yemen village, possibly including American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.[42] Al-Qaida militants fought off repeated attempts by government troops backed by tanks and heavy artillery to retake the besieged town. A military official said the militants were using sniper fire and land mines to keep the soldiers at bay, forcing the army to adjust its tactics. In one attempt, Yemeni troops tried to rappel from helicopters into the village but met with fierce resistance, two Hawta residents said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their security. They said four soldiers were wounded and were rushed away in ambulances. In another attempt, six soldiers were wounded by militant sniper fire as they tried to mount barricades put up by the militants on the town's outskirts, local officials said. Medical officials confirmed that nine soldiers are being treated at the provincial hospital.[43]

On 24 September the government siege of al-Hota ended after security forces took control of the town in the southern province of Shabwa.[44]

Revolution (2011–2012)[edit | edit source]

  • January 8, 2011: Armed suspected Al Qaeda militants attacked a Yemeni army checkpoint in Lahj killing 4 soldiers a day after 12 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Lawdar.[45]
  • March 6, 2011: Armed suspected Al Qaeda gunmen shoot dead 4 soldiers from the elite Republican Guard as they passed in a truck near Marib.[46]
  • March 26, 2011: Al Qaeda captured the town of Jaar in the South of Yemen.[47]
  • March 27, 2011: Al Qaeda militants captured the town of al-Husn, the strategic mountain of Khanfar, and a weapons factory. Fighting in Jaar captured the day prior is being reported.[47]

Battle of Zinjibar[edit | edit source]

On 27 May 2011, about 300 Islamic militants attacked and captured the coastal city of Zinjibar (population 20,000).[48] During the takeover of the town, the militants killed seven soldiers, including a colonel, and one civilian.[49]

In the months that followed the militants entrenched themselves within the city as the Army resorted to aerial bombardment and artillery attacks. The insurgents responded with daily bombings and suicide attacks. By the end of the year almost 800 had been killed in total, with casualties almost equal on both sides. On 4 March, militants launched an attack against an Army artillery battalion on the outskirts of Zinjibar, overrunning it and killing 187 soldiers and wounding 135. 32 Al-Qaeda fighters also died during the fighting. The militants attacked the Army base with booby-trapped vehicles and managed to capture armored vehicles, tanks, weapons and munitions. The military reported 55 soldiers were captured while the militant group claimed up to 73 were in fact taken prisoner. The assault started with a diversionary attack on one end of the base, with the main militant force attacking the other end of the compound. Several car bombs were detonated in front of the gates, after which the attackers entered the base, capturing heavy weapons and turning them against the soldiers. Reinforcements from other nearby military bases came too late due to a sandstorm. It was also revealed that previous military claims of taking back the city were untrue, with the militants still controlling most of Zinjibar and a few surrounding towns, namely Jaar where they paraded the captured soldiers. In the days following the attack, the military conducted air-strikes against militant positions around Zinjibar which they claimed killed 42 Al-Qaeda fighters.[50][51][52][53][54][55]

Situation in Yemen in October 2011

The Ansar al-Sharia group that took responsibility for the attack is believed to be just a re-branding of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to make it more appealing to the devout rural population. Three days after the attack the group let a Red Cross team into Jaar to treat 12 wounded soldiers and demanded a prisoner exchange with the government.[55]

After the beginning of fighting around the city of Lawdar in early April, violence escalated around Zinjibar as well. At least six militants and two Yemeni soldiers were killed in a shootout on 19 April.[12] A major army operation followed in the end of the same month, with hundreds of troops advancing against militant positions in Abyan province. Troops managed to reach the center of Zinjibar after several days of fighting, including an intense six-hour battle towards the end on April 25.[56] Three militants had been killed on the 23rd, and at least 46 died in the province during the next two days, including 15 near Lowdar. Government casualties were initially not released, while meanwhile leaflets and a video released by Ansar al-Sharia contained threats to kill the 85 captive Yemeni soldiers unless the government withdraws its forces.[14][15]

Many of the Islamist forces operating in Abyan province refer to themselves as Ansar al-Sharia ("Partisans of Islamic Law").

Post-Saleh (2012–)[edit | edit source]

On 14 January 2012, hundreds of people displaced by months of fighting were allowed to return to their homes in Zinjibar after a temporary deal was reached between insurgent forces and the army units. Locals described "widespread" destruction across the city and several mine fields that the army warned them about. According to reports, the militants held the western part of the city, while the east was controlled by government forces. Thousands of people previously held protests demanding an end to the fighting that has forced them to flee their homes in the south, holding several 50 km (31 mile) marches from the port city of Aden to Zinjibar. Estimates of the number of people displaced from the government operations against the militants had risen to nearly 97,000.[57]

Attacks continued during the next weeks, including a suicide bombing on 13 March near al-Bayda that killed four soldiers and left four other critically injured.[58] After this attack militants posted a video in which they announced the capture of yet another soldier, bringing the total number of prisoners they hold to 74. They demanded an agreement to free imprisoned insurgents in exchange for the soldiers.

On 31 March 2012 a large group of militants attacked an Army checkpoint in Lahij Governorate during the night, sparking a battle that left 20 soldiers and 4 insurgents dead. The attackers fled with heavy weapons and at least two tanks. Government forces later called in airstrikes that successfully destroyed one of the captured tanks, killing its three occupants.[59]

Second Battle of Lowdar[edit | edit source]

Second Battle of Lawdar
Date 9 April 2012 - May 16, 2012
Location Lawdar (Abyan Governorate)
Status Yemen army and tribesmen drive militants from city
Belligerents
 Yemen Flag of Jihad.svg al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Ansar al-Sharia
Commanders and leaders
Pres. Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi
Brig. Gen. Muhammad Nasir Ahmad Ali
Saleh al-Ahmar
Nasir al-Wuhayshi
Strength
Unknown Al-Qaeda : 500-600
Ansar al-Sharia : unknown
Casualties and losses
33 soldiers and 60 tribal fighters killed, 580 fighters wounded overall[60] 249 killed
32 civilians and tribal militia members killed[16][57][61][62]

On 9 April a large group of militants attacked an Army base near the city of Lawdar and briefly overran it during a battle where locals had to join the military to help drive them out. There were at least 94 people killed in that initial attack, including six civilians, seventy-four insurgents and fourteen soldiers. This was the third such assault in recent weeks, after two similar attacks in March left at least 130 soldiers dead and more than 70 as prisoners of al-Qaeda affiliated groups.[63][64]

Government sources raised the casualty figures yet again on 10 April, bringing the total to 124 dead in two days - including 102 militants, 14 soldiers and at least eight civilians. Local tribal sources confirmed the toll, adding that among the dead insurgents there were at least 12 Somalis and a number of Saudis. Reinforcements were being brought into the area as Air Force planes began bombing insurgent positions near Lowdar and on the main road towards Zinjibar.[64]

At least 51 deaths were recorded on 11 April, most of them al-Qaeda-linked fighters.[65] These included 42 militants, six soldiers and three local militia members. The government reportedly sent an elite anti-terrorism squad to help in defeating the militants.[66]

As of 13 April the battle was still raging around the city with clashes spreading to nearby Mudiyah, the only other town apart from Lowdar that insurgents do not control in the province.[65] Mortar shelling was reported for the second consecutive day by local citizens, with at least 17 civilians injured and the main power station reportedly on fire.[67] After the government sent an additional 200 members of an anti-terrorism unit militants pulled out of the city and back towards the nearby villages of Um Sorra and Wadhia, leaving a few snipers behind. The official death toll on 13 April stood at 37, including 31 militants, five members of a tribal civilian militia and a child that was shot by an unidentified sniper. Authorities reported the city to be relatively quiet on Saturday, with only sporadic gunfire breaking the silence.[61] On Sunday a suicide bomber killed two tribal militia members at a checkpoint in al-Hodn, just outside Lawdar. Six militants and two locals were killed in other clashes around the town, specifically in an area called al-Minyasa.[57] After a few quiet days, fighting resumed on 18 April, with militants shelling the city and government forces ordering air strikes in retaliation. Two children were killed and at least five houses were destroyed during the mortar attacks, while six militants were confirmed dead in the airstrikes.[11][62] The previous day a suicide car bomber had attacked an army checkpoint on the outskirts of Lowdar, killing five Yemeni soldiers and injuring four more.[68] On 19 April at least seven militants were killed after clashes with an Army unit based in Lowdar.[12][69] Two days later Yemeni airplanes bombed militant positions in nearby Jebel Yasuf and al-Minyasa, killing at least 13 fighters.[13] On April 25 at least six militants were killed after their convoy was ambushed by local militia members. Fifteen insurgents were killed two days earlier after a similar incident.[70] Fighting around the city on April 30 killed 12 militants, a soldier and a tribal militia member.[16]

Meanwhile, insurgents continued their attacks across the country, as an army checkpoint near Aden was assaulted by a group of armed men in pickup trucks. In the ensuing gunbattle at least eight attackers and four Yemeni soldier were killed, while three al-Qaida fighters and one security force member were wounded. Additionally, militants kidnapped a senior intelligence officer and two soldiers in the town of Radda south of the capital Sana'a. The town was briefly lost to the terrorist groups in January, before being taken back by government forces a few weeks later.[71] By May 16, Yemen troops backed pro-government tribal militias captured the Yasouf mountain, a strategic force above the city, after heavy fighting.[72] After doing so, it was announced that the militants had fled Lawder.[73]

Sanaa bombing[edit | edit source]

On 21 May 2012, a soldier detonated a suicide bomb in a crowd of military personnel at the beginning of a rehearsal for a Unity Day parade in Sana'a.[74] The bomb killed 96 and wounded more than 200, making it the deadliest attack in Yemen's history.[75] Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility and described it as "revenge" for the continued offensive by the Central Security Organization.[74]

U.S. drone and cruise missile attacks[edit | edit source]

The U.S. first said it used targeted killing in November 2002, with the cooperation and approval of the government of Yemen.[76][77] A CIA-controlled high-altitude Predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at an SUV in the Yemeni desert containing Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a Yemeni suspected senior al-Qaeda lieutenant believed to have been the mastermind behind the October 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 Americans.[76][77][78] He was on a list of targets whose capture or death had been called for by President George W. Bush.[76] In addition to al-Harethi, five other occupants of the SUV were killed, all of whom were suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, and one of whom (Kamal Derwish) was an American.[76][79]

In May 2010, an errant U.S. drone attack targeting al Qaeda terrorists in Wadi Abida, Yemen killed five people, among them Jaber al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Maarib province who was mediating between the government and the militants. The killing so angered Shabwani's tribesmen that in the subsequent weeks they fought heavily with government security forces, twice attacking a major oil pipeline in Maarib.[80]

According to The Times, in 2010 the US, in cooperation with Yemeni officials, launched four cruise missiles at suspected terrorist targets in Yemen. According to the Times, Yemen asked the US to suspend the strikes after one of the missiles killed a pro-Yemeni tribal leader, Sheikh Jaber al-Shabwani, the deputy governor of Marib province, resulting in his tribe turning against the Yemeni government. The Times also stated that US special forces troops were on the ground in Yemen helping to hunt al-Qaeda operatives.[81]

On 3 June 2011 American manned jets or drones attacked and killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel al-Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. Four civilians were also reportedly killed in the strike. The strike was reportedly coordinated by American special forces and CIA operatives based in Sana.[82] According to the Associated Press, in 2011 the US government began building an airbase near or in Yemen from which the CIA and US military plans to operate drones over Yemen.[83] September 30, 2011: Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted by a US drone strike which successfully killed him, Samir Khan and a few other militants while they were all in the same car driving to get breakfast.

Suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least 9 militants on 16 and 18 April 2012 in some of the first such operations in months. The two strikes were in Shabwa and Abyan provinces, which are partially or mostly under the control of the insurgents.[84]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan (IAA), has executed a number of spectacular attacks against Western interests in recent years. It was responsible for the 1998 kidnapping of sixteen Western tourists in the southern province of Abyan, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and an assault on the French tanker the Limburg in 2002, among other attacks. Despite these international strikes, the IAA is the classic Al Qaeda affiliate: a local phenomenon that assists the larger jihadi network in its war against the West." [1]
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