U.S. ramps up war on Is­lamic State in Ye­men as fight slows in Iraq, Syria

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

As the fight against Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria comes to a close, U.S. mil­i­tary and coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials are set­ting their sights on the group’s grow­ing pres­ence in the war-torn coun­try of Ye­men.

The num­ber of U.S. airstrikes against Is­lamic State’s Ye­meni fac­tion has in­creased in the past sev­eral weeks as the mis­sion for Amer­i­can drones and war­planes against the group’s bas­tions else­where in the Mid­dle East ramp down.

A trio of deadly strikes this month against Is­lamic State train­ing camps in Ye­men marks a re­fo­cus by Amer­i­can coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces back onto the Gulf state that has been a reg­u­lar tar­get of U.S. forces bat­tling the al Qaeda fac­tion known as al Qaeda in the Ara­bic Penin­sula, or AQAP, for the past two decades.

But strikes in the coun­try this month are the first time Washington has gone af­ter the Is­lamic State in­side Ye­men.

The uptick in U.S. op­er­a­tions against the Ye­meni-based Is­lamic State cells be­gan in mid-Oc­to­ber with an airstrike against a sus­pected camp in the coun­try’s al Bayda gov­er­norate.

The strike, which the Pen­tagon said was crit­i­cal to “dis­rupt­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s at­tempts to train new fighters,” was the first such strike specif­i­cally tar­get­ing Is­lamic State in the coun­try.

On Wed­nes­day, Amer­i­can forces launched a pair of airstrikes against another sus­pected tar­get in al Bayda, re­port­edly killing nine ji­hadis tied to Ye­men’s Is­lamic State fac­tions. All told, Amer­i­can war­planes killed roughly 60 in­sur­gents from the group dur­ing all three strikes, said Cen­tral Com­mand of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

“ISIS has used the un­governed spa­ces of Ye­men to plot, di­rect, in­sti­gate, re­source and re­cruit for at­tacks against Amer­ica and its al­lies around the world,” Pen­tagon of­fi­cials said af­ter the ini­tial Oct. 9 strike, us­ing an acro­nym for the group.

“U.S. forces are sup­port­ing on­go­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions in Ye­men against ISIS and AQAP to de­grade the groups’ abil­ity to co­or­di­nate ex­ter­nal ter­ror at­tacks and limit their abil­ity to hold ter­ri­tory seized from the le­git­i­mate govern­ment of Ye­men,” Pen­tagon of­fi­cials added.

U.S. forces have launched over 100 airstrikes against al Qaeda in Ye­men this year, 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 ad­min­is­tra­tion dwarfs the pre­vi­ous high of 46 strikes in 2016 or­dered by President Obama.

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

Amer­i­can air op­er­a­tions have ramped down against the Is­lamic State sig­nif­i­cantly since the fall of Mo­sul in July and the re­cap­ture this month of Raqqa, the ter­ror­ist group’s Syr­ian cap­i­tal and cen­ter of its so­called caliphate. U.S. and coali­tion forces have ex­e­cuted 132 U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria com­bined since mid-Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to De­fense Depart­ment fig­ures.

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