During a raid in Marib Governorate in Yemen, United States (U.S.) Navy SEALs killed seven fighters associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
U.S. Central Command Press Release – U.S. forces conduct counter-terrorism raid
May 22, 2017
Release Number 20170522-01
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TAMPA, Fla.- U.S. forces conducted a counter-terrorism operation against a compound associated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, May 23 (Yemen time) in Marib Governorate, Yemen.
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.
During this operation, U.S. forces killed seven AQAP militants through a combination of small arms fire and precision airstrikes.
This operation was conducted with the support of the government of Yemen. In conjunction with our Arab allies, the U.S. will continue to support their efforts in bringing stability to the region by fighting known terrorist organizations like AQAP.
AQAP 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 group attacked the U.S. Embassy-Sanaa in 2008, attempted to down Northwest Airlines 253 on Christmas Day 2009, and conspired to send explosive-laden parcels to Chicago in 2010. The group has also used its English-language magazine Inspire to encourage attacks against the West, and has been linked to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, 2009 Ft. Hood shooting, and other lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. and Europe. AQAP is a formidable terror group that remains committed and capable of attacking Americans and the U.S. homeland.
*Update 8:54AM EDT 23 MAY
We inadvertently referred to the government of Yemen as the Royal Government of Yemen.
According to Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, the raided compound served “as a headquarter, a place to meet and plan for external operations”. Davis added that the al Qaeda fighters were “likely not expecting us” because of how deep in Yemeni territory the raid occurred, as it was the “deepest we’ve ever gone into Yemen to fight AQAP”.
According to a defence official, during the raid, two U.S. service members were lightly wounded but were safely extracted. U.S. forces called in an AC-130 gunship for air support and defence officials noted that additional AQAP fighters, in addition to the seven, may have been killed by the gunship.
The U.S. has stepped up its ground operations inside Yemen in recent months as result of growing concerns that AQAP continues to plan attacks on Western targets, including commercial aviation, and continues to pose a significant threat. In addition to ground operations conducted by U.S. Special Forces, the U.S. has conducted more than 80 airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen since February.
The raid is the first publicly acknowledged ground operation since Navy SEALs conducted a mission earlier this year, which resulted in the death of one Navy SEAL. However, while it is likely that multiple raids have been conducted in secrecy since, according to several defence officials, the Pentagon is under pressure from the White House to show progress on operations in Yemen, which is the likely reason for making this raid public.
YEMEN A FAILED STATE
Yemen, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and is what is commonly referred to as a failed state. The country has been in a bloody civil war since March of 2015 and according to the United Nations between the start of the conflict and the end of 2016, close to 7,500 people have been killed, more than 40,000 injured and as many as 3.1 million displaced. On top of that, the conflict has triggered a humanitarian disaster in the country leaving 80% of the population in need of aid, with 14 million people suffering from food insecurity and approximately 370,000 children under the age of five suffering the risk of starving to death.
Yemen is strategically important because it sits on the Bab al-Mandab strait, a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments pass.
THE WAR IN YEMEN – BACKGROUND AND INTERNAL PLAYERS
In late 2011, an uprising forced the country’s longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdulla Saleh, to hand over power to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, his deputy. Hadi took over the government, however he was facing some major problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, military distrust, continued loyalty of many officers to Saleh, corruption, unemployment and food insecurity. In a nutshell Hadi’s government was weak and a weak government mixed with a poor, unemployed and starving population as history has shown is a prime mixture for civil war.
In 2013, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference came together to write a new constitution and to create a federal political system, however the Houthis, a Shia Muslim minority that had already fought a series of rebellions against the previous president Saleh, withdrew from the process because the conference intended to keep Hadi’s transitional government in place and to make matters worse, two Houthi representatives to the conference were assassinated.
Fast forward to 2014, the Houthis seized the opportunity of the transitional government’s weakness, rose up and took control of the northern heartland of Saada province and some of the neighboring areas. The Houthis advanced further and by September 2014 took control of the capital, Sanaa. By January 2015, the Houthis grip of Sanaa was solidified and they surrounded the presidential palace and other key points effectively placing Hadi and his government under house arrest. Shortly after Hadi escaped to the southern port city of Aden. The Houthis and security forces loyal to Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Hadi to flee the country in March 2015. Although, Hadi and his government have since returned to Aden from where they are organizing their fight against the Houthis.
Al-Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist group the West knows all too well, had a presence in Yemen since before the start of the conflict in 2015, commonly known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However since the conflicted erupted, al-Qaeda has used the power vacuum to advance its interests and launched several attacks on the Shia Houthi rebels, which al-Qaeda regards as infidels.
ISIL also has a presence in the country and in December of 2014 announced the formation of a state, in Yemen. In March 2015, it claimed its first attacks in the country, which were suicide bombings in mosques used by Zaydi Shia Muslims. Reportedly the attacks killed more than 140 people.
So in a nutshell one the one side we have forces loyal to the government of Hadi, which consist of soldiers loyal to Hadi and predominantly Sunni southern tribesmen and on the other side we have the predominantly Shia Houthi rebels supported by separatists and Saleh and his supporters. To make things more complicated as outline above jihadist militants from AQAP and ISIL have meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory of their own. While this covers all the internal players, with AQAP and ISIL arguably being somewhat external players, the list of external players even further complicating the situation in Yemen.
THE WAR IN YEMEN – EXTERNAL PLAYERS
Following the territorial gain of the Shia Houthis, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni countries (the Coalition) launched an air campaign aimed at restoring Hadi’s government. The Coalition consists of Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. By now several of these countries have sent troops to fight on the ground in Yemen, while others have only carried out air strikes. The Coalition has received logistical and intelligence support from the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom and France.
The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.
So while Saudia Arabia and its Coalition support Hadi, it is believed that the Houthis on the other hand are backed militarily by Iran. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, but according to the U.S. military it intercepted arms shipments from Iran to Yemen. Iranian officials have also suggested they may send military advisers to support the Houthis.
As part of the borader U.S. campaigns against terrorists, the U.S. regularly launches air strikes on AQAP and ISIL targets in Yemen and has Special Forces on the ground fighting both groups.
Despite the Coalitions air campaign and naval blockade, pro-government forces have been unable to push the Houthis from their northern strongholds, including Sanaa. The Houthis have since mounted attacks inside neighboring Saudia Arabia to retaliate against the Coalitions military intervention.
To this day no side appears close to a decisive military victory and the conflict is likely to carry on for years to come giving organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL the perfect breeding ground as we have seen in Iraq and Syria.
– Stages of War