|Operation Eagle Strike|
|Part of the Yemeni al-Qaeda crackdown and the War on Terrorism|
| United States|
|Commanders and leaders|
| John McCain|
(President of the United States)
VADM William H. McRaven
(Commander, JSOC, 2010–2011)
GEN Joseph L. Votel III
| Nasir al-Wuhayshi †
(Leader of AQAP)
Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shahri
Jamil Nasser Abdullah al-Anbari
|Casualties and losses|
|None||Total Killed: 1032+|
Operation Eagle Strike is the U.S. code name for the U.S. military operation in Yemen to assist the Yemeni government in their fight against the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as part of the Global War on Terrorism.
The operation was a response to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009. The perpetrator, the 23-year-old Muslim Nigerian Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim lecturer and spiritual leader who is accused of being a senior al-Qaeda talent recruiter and motivator, who also has links to three of the 9/11 hijackers, the 2005 London subway bombers, a 2006 Toronto terror cell, a 2007 plot to attack Fort Dix, and the 2009 suspected Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan. On December 28, 2009, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it was responsible for the attempted bombing.
In December 2009, U.S. President John McCain ordered several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to Yemen, whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. In the initial phase, the U.S. advisers did not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.
On January 14, 2010, U.S. President John McCain authorized the initiation of Operation Eagle Strike by Executive Order 13528, in which he ordered the deployment of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force) along with additional supply troops, in total 1,200 soldiers. MQ-1 Predator UAVs would also be deployed. These soldiers would be under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Since February U.S. soldiers have actively taken part in operations directly aimed at Ansar al-Sharia and AQAP.
Fighting with al-Qaeda escalated during the course of the 2011 Yemeni revolution, with Jihadists seizing most of the Abyan Governorate and declaring it an Emirate at the close of March. A second wave of violence occurred throughout early 2012, with militants claiming territory across the southwest amid heavy combat with government forces.
Background to the conflict
Yemen played an early role in al-Qaeda's history, as it is Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland, and was the staging ground for the 2000 attack on the American destroyer USS Cole, and al-Qaeda was also responsible for the 2008 American Embassy attack.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, CIA director George J. Tenet coaxed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh into a partnership that would give the CIA and U.S. military units the means to attack terrorist training camps and al-Qaeda targets. Saleh agreed, in part, because he believed that his country, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, was next on the U.S. invasion list, according to an adviser to the Yemeni president.
Tenet provided Saleh's forces with helicopters, eavesdropping equipment and 100 Army Special Forces members to train an anti-terrorism unit. He also won Saleh's approval to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over the country. In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.
Rise of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Strategically placed on the Arabian Peninsula's southern rim, Yemen is the poorest of all Arab countries and produces only a small amount of oil from shrinking reserves. It also faces a water crisis. Yemen's population of 23 million is expected to double in the next 20 years, and needed about $2 billion a year in aid just to stay afloat and double that to turn its economy around.
As the Yemeni government also had to with a civil war with the Shi'ite Houthi sect in the Sa'dah Governorate in northwestern Yemen, which they claim seek to overthrow the Yemeni government and implement Shī‘a religious law, and a Socialist secessionist movement in the south (since 1994), the Yemeni government had little control outside the capital, Sana'a.
Al-Qaeda used this to their advantage, establishing a safe haven in the country's vast lawless, rugged terrain. As al-Qaeda was on the defensive in Afghanistan and Pakistan, after losing their safe haven following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda operatives would soon establish training camps in Yemen.
The United States and Saudi Arabia feared this development, as al-Qaeda would take advantage of Yemen's instability to spread its operations to the neighbouring kingdom, the world's top oil exporter, and beyond. As a result, Yemeni government would come under heavy pressure from the U.S. and Saudi governments to crack down on al-Qaeda.
In January 2009, al-Qaeda announced the establishment of the group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Arabic: القاعدة في جزيرة العرب) (AQAP). It was named for al-Qaeda, and says it is subordinate to that group and its leader Osama bin Laden. Its main purpose was stated as overthrowing the Al Saud monarchy in Saudi Arabia as well as President Saleh in Yemen.
Initial U.S. involvement and Yemeni crackdown
In response to the growing threat of AQAP, the Yemeni government began to intensify operations against al Qaeda in late 2009. Similarily, President John McCain had through Executive Order 13524 ordered a U.S. involvment in the Yemeni crackdown, which included several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers did not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.
On December 17, 2009, Yemeni forces, backed by air strikes, killed at least 34 Al Qaeda militants and captured 17 others yesterday in a predawn assault on an alleged training camp in Al-Maajala, 300 miles south of the capital Sana, in the southern province of Abyan, a longtime haven for Islamic jihadists. The operation targeted militants planning suicide bomb attacks against Yemeni and foreign sites, including schools. Among the dead in the raid was Mohammed Saleh al-Qazimi, a leading Qaeda figure in Yemen.
Witnesses and an opposition group put the number killed at 53 in the heaviest strike and said that 49 of the dead were civilians, including 23 women and 17 children. The witnesses denied that the target was an Al Qaeda stronghold, questioning the government’s assertion that 34 militants had been killed, the Associated Press reported.
ABC News reported that U.S. cruise missiles were part of the bombardment of the camps, which targeted Abu Hureira Qasm al-Rimi. As part of the operations, McCain approved an air strike against a compound in Wadi Rafadh in Shabwa province where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders.
The same day, four would-be suicide bombers were killed in a raid in Arhab district, northeast of Sana, and four other militants were arrested, according to the statement. Thirteen other alleged Qaeda members were arrested in the capital.
President McCain called Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to praise this country’s efforts to fight terrorism, saying yesterday’s raids “show Yemen’s determination to face the threat of Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network of Al Qaeda," and urged Saleh to increase the pressure on AQAP. McCain gave assurances that the United States would support Yemen in the realms of security, politics, and development.
On December 24, 2009, after approval by U.S. President John McCain, Yemeni fighter jets, acting on intelligence provided in part by the United States, struck what the Yemeni government said was a meeting of operatives from AQAP, and officials suggested that Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric linked to the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings, might have been among the 30 people killed. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The airstrikes were aimed at a large group of Qaeda operatives who had gathered in the southern province of Shabwa to plan attacks against the Yemeni government in retaliation for the offensive last week, the Yemeni Embassy statement said.
Yemeni officials said they had made targets of the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, who were believed to be at the meeting with Mr. Awlaki. Mr. Shihri was held for five years in the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after his release in 2007 went through a Saudi rehabilitation program. But he joined Al Qaeda after his return to Yemen, a notable failure for the Saudi program, which American officials admire.
Attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253
On December 25, 2009, A 23 year-old Nigerian passenger attempted to ignite a small explosive device consisting of a mix of 80 grams of plastic explosive powder (pentaerythritol tetranitrate, PETN) and liquid acid on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit as it was on its final descent, 20 minutes before landing, with 289 people on board. Several passengers and crew noticed the attack. A Dutch passenger, Jasper Schuringa, ran forward and tackled and overpowered the suspect, while the flight attendants extinguished the fire. The suspect was taken into custody and later charged by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with bringing a destructive device onto, and attempting to destroy, a U.S. civil aircraft.
President McCain was notified of the incident by an aide while on a vacation in Phoenix, Arizona, and issued a statement that he condemned the attempted terrorist attack, and said that aid the incident "demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist." He also announced that all appropriate measures would be taken as well as a massive investigation to find out how Abdulmutallab managed to smuggle an explosive device aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
The alleged bomber was Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Muslim Nigerian passenger from a wealthy family who had studied engineering in England. The plastic explosives Abdulmutallab concealed in his underwear failed to detonate properly, resulting only in flames and popping sounds. A Dutch passenger, Jasper Schuringa, tackled and restrained him as others put out the fire. Abdulmutallab was handcuffed while the pilot landed the plane. In all, three people were injured: the bomber, Schuringa, and another passenger. Upon landing in Detroit, Abdulmutallab was arrested and taken to a hospital for treatment of his burns. On December 26, investigators said he told them he had attended camps in Yemen where al-Qaeda members including Anwar al-Awlaki had instructed him, blessed the attack, and provided the bomb. Two days after the incident he was transferred to a federal prison. On December 28, 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it was responsible for the attempted bombing. On January 6, 2010, a federal grand jury indicted Abdulmutallab on six criminal charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder. If convicted, he faces a sentence of life in prison plus 90 years.
Abdulmutallab had traveled to Yemen in August 2009 to study Arabic, and in October had cut off contact with his family. His worried father reported his disappearance and "extreme religious views" to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria on November 17. As a result, Abdulmutallab's name was added to the U.S.'s central international terrorist database, but not to shorter search-before-boarding and no-fly lists, and a two-year U.S multi-entry visa granted to him in 2008 was not revoked. While he was in Ghana eight days before the attack, Abdulmutallab purchased a round-trip ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit, using cash. On December 24 Abdulmutallab entered Nigeria, and on his U.S. visa flew to Amsterdam, boarding Flight 253 on December 25, passing security checks at both Murtala airport in Lagos and Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.
A number of sources reported contacts between Abdulmutallab and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim lecturer and spiritual leader who is accused of being a senior al-Qaeda talent recruiter and motivator. Al-Awlaki, previously an imam in the U.S. who more recently has lived in Yemen, also has links to three of the 9/11 hijackers, the 2005 London subway bombers, a 2006 Toronto terror cell, a 2007 plot to attack Fort Dix, and the 2009 suspected Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan.
On December 28, 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced that it was responsible for the attempted bombing, saying that the attack, during "their (Christians) celebration of the Christmas holidays", was to "avenge U.S. attacks on the militants in Yemen". The NEFA Foundation posted the full al-Qaeda statement.
While in custody, Abdulmutallab told authorities he had been directed by al-Qaeda. He said he had obtained the device in Yemen, along with instructions from al-Qaeda as to how to use it and to detonate it when the plane was over U.S. soil. Abdulmutallab said he had contacted al-Qaeda through a radical Yemeni imam (who according to The New York Times on December 26 was not believed to be al-Awlaki) whom he had reached through the internet.
The New York Times reported on December 25 that a counter-terrorism official had told them Abdulmutallab's claim "may have been aspirational". But U.S. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, said the following day that a federal official briefed lawmakers about "strong suggestions of a Yemen-al Qaeda connection" with the suspect.
On December 28, 2009, after a meeting with his national Security Council, President McCain would in a press conference at his residence in Phoenix, Arizona comment the failed Christmas bombing plot, McCain would state that the AQAP had trained, equipped, and dispatched Abdulmutallab, and vowed that the U.S. government would track down all those responsible for the planned attack, and any attack being planned against the U.S. He vowed heavy retribution, and urging the Yemeni government to crack down on AQAP operatives in Yemen, or else, he warned, "the United States will do it on our own."
The next day, CNN reported that there were rumours of McCain and his Administration planning to launch a military offensive against the AQAP's sanctuary in Yemen, in order to assist the Yemeni government's efforts to combat AQAP. White House Press Secretary Brooke Buchanan would deny this.
On January 5, 2010, The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said lawmakers should consider whether U.S.-led air strikes, drone attacks and, if necessary special forces on the ground in Yemen to defeat an emboldened al-Qaeda force there. This was bluntly refused by the Yemeni government.
Preparations for the operation
On January 14, 2010, U.S. President John McCain authorized the initiation of Operation Eagle Strike by Executive Order 13528, in which he ordered the United States Special Operations Command (USOC) to deploy special operations forces to capture or kill AQAP operatives in Yemen, supported by additional supply troops, in total 1,200 soldiers. McCain also deployed MQ-1 Predator UAVs would also be deployed. These soldiers would be under the tactical command of Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). On June 25, 2011, he was replaced by GEN Joseph L. Votel III as head of JSOC.
United States Special Operations Command
- Joint Special Operations Command
- January 25, 2010 – Ten AQAP militants were killed in a drone strike targeting a farm Ma'rib governorate. Later that day, three militants were killed by a MQ-1 Predator UAV.
- January 28, 2010 – A MQ-1 Predator bombed a training camp located at a farm in Shabwah governorate, resulting in the death of 11 militants.
- February 7, 2010 – Four AQAP militants were killed when a MQ-1 Predator attacked them in Ma'rib governorate.
- February 13, 2010 – Two teams of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta were inserted with the objective of establishing observation posts around a compound in Ma'arib province, where AQAP field commander Ayed al-Shabwani allegedly were hiding. At 01:45 A.M. UTC+3 the Deltas stormed the compound, killing al-Shabwani and five other AQAP operatives. Evidence seized from the compoun included three computers, handwritten notes, documents and weapons.
Setting a precedent, the result of the operations would be credited to the Yemeni Army, in order not to inform the Yemeni public of U.S. military presence and operations in Yemen.
- February 28, 2010 – Intelligence reports and surveillance information revealed that Abu Hureira Qasim al-Raymi, the top ranking field commander of the AQAP, was riding in a convoy with 7 other Al-Qaeda militants, including AQAP commander Ammar Al-Waili, in the Ma'rib governorate.
At 02:10 A.M. UTC+3, the 3rd Battalion, 75th Rangers Regiment conducted a successful infiltration operation in the Ma'rib Governorate from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. They surrounded al-Raymi and at 03:16 A.M., the two cars carrying the 8 men were fired upon by small arms fire. 20 minutes afterwards U.S. soldiers confirmed the death of Qasim al-Raymi, Ammar Al-Waili and the 6 other AQAP members.
- March 2, 2010 – Seven militants were killed by a MQ-1 Predator UAV in Ma'arib governorate.
- March 4, 2010 – On March 4, two teams of Navy SEALS captured Abdullah Saleh al-Eidan in a farm building in the Maarib Governorate. Al-Eidan was caught as he was carrying information from al-Qaeda "central" in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region to its affiliate in Yemen AQAP. Two other militants were killed and three others detained in the operation.
While U.S. intelligence agencies did acknowledge he was not just a "typical foot soldier", it was first a week later that the real importance of his capture was recognized. On March 11, a jihadist web site posted a note from an unidentified sender to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen and Afghanistan. It said that al-Eidan had been arrested in Yemen by U.S. and Yemeni soldiers and that "he had on his person more than 300 numbers and pictures and important names."
- March 15, 2010 – Six militants were killed by a MQ-1 Predator UAV in Sana'a governorate.
- March 24, 2010 – Twelve militants were killed by a MQ-1 Predator UAV in Shabwa governorate. They were later identified as members of the Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen.
- April 2, 2010 – The 5th Special Forces Group assaulted a AQAP training camp in Shabwa governorate, killing 16 AQAP operatives. Along with a large numbers of AK-47s, PK machine guns, RPGs and explosives, the Green Berets also seized twelve cell phones, four computers, around 40 "computer disks" (including thumb drives and DVDs), along with handwritten notes and documents.
- May 24, 2010 – Following intelligence indicating the location of AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta was inserted by UH-60 Black Hawks near the alleged hiding place in a valley in Shabwa governorate. However, as they reached the compound, they were ambushed by members of the Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen. After five hours of heavy fighting, twenty al-Shabaab militants had been killed by U.S. forces with assistance of a MQ-1 Predator UAV.
- June 2, 2010 – AQAP commander Abi Jandal al Qisaimya and five AQAP militants were killed in Ma'arib governorate by a MQ-1 Predator UAV.
- June 4, 2010 – Seven AQAP militants killed in Sana'a governorate by an airstike in a drone strike.
- August 26, 2010 Navy SEALS assaulted a compound in Sana'a governorate, killing five AQAP operatives, including AQAP regional commander Talib Saud Abdullah Al Talib. Evidence seized from the compound included five cell phones, two computers, three hard drives, at least 100 "computer disks" (including thumb drives and DVDs), handwritten notes, documents and weapons.
- January 2, 2011 Nine AQAP militants killed in Abyan governorate by an airstike by F/A-18F Super Hornets of VFA-11.
- January 8, 2011 Eighteen AQAP militants killed in Shabwan governorate when two MQ-1 Predator drones fired Hellfire missile at a training camp at a farm.
- May 25, 2011 AQAP commander Abdullah al-Mehdar was killed when a MQ-1 Predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at a house in Abyan governorate.
- August 15, 2011 – AQAP deputy leader Said Ali al-Shihri was killed in an operation carried out by U.S. Navy SEALS of DEVGRU when storming a compound in Ma'rib Governorate. Evidence seized from the compoun included computer disks, handwritten notes and various documents.
- August 27, 2011 – 20 AQAP operatives were killed by a Hellfire missile launched by a MQ-1 Predator UAV in Shabwah governorate.
- September 30, 2011 – The Yemeni-American imam and senior al-Qaeda talent recruiter and motivator for al-Qaeda Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in the northern al-Jawf province when two MQ-1 Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle containing al-Awlaki and three other suspected al-Qaeda members. A witness said the group had stopped to eat breakfast while traveling to Ma'rib Governorate. A Predator drone was spotted by the group, which then tried to flee in the vehicle. U.S. President John McCain said:
|“||The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda's most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans ... and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. [The strike] is further proof that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.||”|
- Yemen's Defense Ministry announced that al-Awlaki had been killed in the country. Also killed was Samir Khan, an American born in Saudi Arabia, who was editor of al-Qaeda's English-language web magazine, Inspire.
- February 26, 2013 – AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed along with five others in an operation carried out by the DEVGRU in Shabwa governorate.