The US killed 16 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and five civilians in the first drone strike in Yemen in more than two weeks, according to reports from the country.
Today's airstrike, which was carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, targeted a pickup truck packed with AQAP fighters who were traveling on a highway in the Hazmiah area of Baydah province, Xinhua reported. The five civilians who were killed were traveling in a separate car that was also hit in the strike. Six more civilians in a different car are also reported to have been wounded.
No senior AQAP leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed in the strike.
Over the past several years, Baydah province has transformed into one of several hubs of AQAP activity. The city of Rada'a was an AQAP stronghold in early 2012, when a senior AQAP leader known as Tariq al Dhahab took control of the town, raised al Qaeda's flag, and swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. Tariq was later killed by a brother who is opposed to al Qaeda.
Another brother, known as Kaid al Dhahab, took over to serve as AQAP's emir in the province of Baydah. The US killed Kaid in a drone strike in Baydah on Aug. 30.
The last US strike in Baydah took place in December 2013. Fifteen civilians are reported to have been killed in that controversial strike.
Background on US strikes in Yemen
The US has launched nine strikes in Yemen so far this year. Two of those strikes took place this month, four of took place in March, and three in January.
The last strike took place on April 1, when US drones targeted an an AQAP training center in the Al Mahfad area of Abyan province.
The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.
The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.
Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP's top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP's emir for Baydah province, during that time period.
AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a recent AQAP video featuring Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda's overall general manager, he said America remains a target.
"O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America," Wuhayshi said.
Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014.