A suspected US airstrike hit Yemen’s Maarib province, AFP reported Wednesday, citing sources in the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
The sources claimed the strike hit a house in Maarib and killed a senior leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Hamad bin Hamoud al-Tamimi, and his Yemeni bodyguard.
The sources said Tamimi, also known as Abdel Aziz al-Adnani, was a Saudi and worked as a “judge” in AQAP and headed the group’s leadership council. They said Tamimi recently rented the house that was targeted in the strike.
The eastern portion of Maarib is controlled by the Saudi-backed government, while the Houthis control some areas in the west. The strike likely took place in government-controlled areas since AFP’s sources were not Houthi officials.
The first known US drone strike of the year in Yemen was reported in Maarib on January 30, which took place in government-controlled territory. AFP’s sources claimed three alleged al-Qaeda members were killed in that strike.
The US has targeted AQAP in Yemen for decades, with US airstrikes in the country peaking in 2017 and declining since. The US military reported 131 airstrikes in Yemen in 2017 that they claimed targeted al-Qaeda and ISIS, although many civilian casualties were reported.
In 2022, the US military did not claim any airstrikes in Yemen. But the monitoring group Airwars found two alleged US strikes in the country that targeted AQAP but also resulted in civilian casualties, one on February 6, 2022, and one on November 30, 2022.
While targeting AQAP in Yemen, the US has also been backing the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis since 2015. The coalition has a history of recruiting al-Qaeda fighters, and weapons sold to the Saudis and UAE have ended up in the hands of the terror group.
A report from The Associated Press in 2018 found that the Saudi-UAE coalition hired al-Qaeda members to help fight against the Houthis. The AP report said: “Coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaeda militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters.”
Right before the Obama administration backed the coalition against the Houthis in March 2015, the US was actually cooperating with the Houthis against AQAP. In January 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that the US had “forged ties” with the Houthis as part of a strategy to “maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda.”
The renewed US airstrikes against AQAP come as the Saudis and the Houthis appear close to a peace deal. The US-backed coalition has enforced a blockade on Yemen for years, but a container ship carrying general goods just entered Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah for the first time since 2016, a step that was said to facilitate Saudi-Houthi talks.