- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2017

A top al Qaeda chieftain of the group’s Yemeni cell and a top lieutenant were killed in a U.S. airstrike, the latest blow to the terror organization’s operations in the country by an increasingly aggressive American air campaign.

Mujahid al-Adani, who led all al Qaeda forces in the southern Yemeni governorate of Shabwah, was killed by American warplanes while traveling through the al-Bayda governorate on Nov. 20, U.S. Central Command officials confirmed Friday.

Mr. al-Adani, also known as Mohammad Shukri, was traveling with Abu Layth al-Sanaani, a senior leader in the group’s al-Bayda operations, when American forces struck. Both men, along with three unnamed al Qaeda associates, were killed in the strike, command officials said.

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Mr. al-Adani had been a top commander for the al Qaeda cell in Yemen, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), first coordinating terror operations from the group’s port city stronghold of Aden.

Until his death, Mr. al-Adani “remained responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against Yemeni and coalition forces [and] maintained a significant influence within AQAP as well as close ties to other AQAP senior leaders,” command officials said.

The Nov. 20 strike is the latest in a recent string of U.S. operations against extremist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Yemen, which have been on the rise over the past several weeks.

A trio of deadly strikes this month against Islamic State training camps in October marked the refocus by American counterterrorism forces back onto Yemen, which has been a regular target of U.S. forces battling AQAP for the last two decades.

U.S. forces have launched over 100 airstrikes against this year, and over 200 since American air operations began against al Qaeda in Yemen, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based think tank the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The high rate of airstrikes this year under the Trump White House dwarfs the previous high of 46 strikes in 2016, ordered by former President Obama.

In comparison, U.S. warplanes launched 119 airstrikes during a single week in mid-March, during the height of the Iraqi and coalition offensive against ISIS’s northern Iraqi capital of Mosul.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels ended with 23 civilians dead, officials in Sana’a said. The strikes focused on the main Houthi redoubt of Saada in the country’s north, Abdel Elah al-Ezi, head of the city’s health directorate, told The Associated Press.

On Friday, the administration urged Riyadh to end its blockade of Yemeni ports and commercial airspace, to allow “the free flow of humanitarian aid and critical commercial goods” to the thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire. White House officials also demanded Houthi commanders allow air and supplies moving through Houthi-controlled areas to reach those most in need “rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people,” said a statement issued Friday.

Administration officials also condemned Iran’s continued support of Houthi forces “which accelerate the cycle of violence and human suffering, obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid, and disrupt efforts toward a political resolution,” according to the White House statement.

An Arab-military coalition spearheaded by Riyadh have been at war with the Houthi separatists since 2015. Washington has admittedly provided logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition.

Friday’s White House statement made no mention of reported mass civilian casualties tied to Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against the rebels.

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