WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Yemen launched drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula targets in the wake of a bold video released by the terror group showing a confab of terrorists, including al-Qaeda No. 2 Nasir al-Wuhayshi, essentially mocking the west with a meeting in the wide open.
The counter raid that began after the video hit the headlines, though, couldn’t exactly catch the big-name jihadists on their way home — the meeting in the footage occurred sometime in mid-February through the end of March, according to analysts.
The strikes, then, were as much about saving face as trying to catch up to the intelligence revealed in the video, which featured a former Guantanamo detainee and was followed by another threatening release from al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Yemen’s Saba news agency reported Monday that an airstrike “killed a number of militants” of varying nationalities at al-Qaeda training camps in a remote mountainous region between Abyan and Shabwa province. Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee said strikes were launched on Saturday and Sunday based on “certain intelligence information that terrorist elements were training in those camps and planning to target vital civilian and military facilities.”
The Yemeni government said the Saturday strike targeted a truck carrying 11 al-Qaeda terrorists to al-Bayda city, where they planned to target “vital military and civil sites.” Ten of those on board were reportedly killed. Unfortunately, a pickup drove too close to the targeted vehicle, and three civilians within were killed in the strike.
Yemeni officials initially speculated that bomb-maker Ibrahim Asiri may have been killed in the strikes, but withdrew those claims as the day wore on.
“We’re aware of the reports and I’d point you to the Yemeni government and what the government itself has said. In statements to the press, the Yemeni government has confirmed that airstrikes were carried out this weekend against al-Qaeda militants in remote training camps and in a convoy. According to the Yemenis, these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities in al-Bayda and elsewhere,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said at today’s briefing.
“Now, I can’t speak to specific operations, but we have a strong, collaborative relationship, as you know, with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP,” he added. “So in terms of more details about the strikes that the Yemeni government has discussed, I would refer you to the Yemeni government.”
That likely would have been a victory lap if a big-name target had been confirmed killed. Carney was then asked if AQAP’s growth and threat meant President Obama felt differently about his promise to scale back drone strikes.
“We have a strong collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. We support the Yemeni government’s efforts to tackle terrorism within their own borders; and beyond that, for details of these reported incidents, I would refer you to the Yemeni government,” Carney replied.
“Again, without speaking about specific operations, I can tell you that in May 2013, President Obama spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the United States takes direct action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, including with drone strikes. And as the president made clear, we take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international laws, and that they are consistent with U.S. values and policy.”
Over at the State Department, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked if it was a coincidence that the AQAP video became the top story on the news and airstrikes then followed.
“I would put a call in to the Yemeni government and see if they have more details to share with you,” she replied, hastily wrapping up the briefing.