U.S. drone strikes have killed Yemen-based terrorist leader Jalal Baliedi. Also known known as Hamza Al-Marqashi, Baliedi was one of the top commanders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Baliedi and his two guards were destroyed by a U.S. drone strike in the middle of the night on Feb. 4. He had led AQAP fighters in the southern Yemen provinces of Abyan (his birthplace), Shabwa, Lahj, Hadramout and al-Beidha, Al Jazeera reports.
There had been an al-Qaeda presence in Yemen for years, creating unease in the region. The country devolved into civil war when the Shi’ite Houthis removed President Abd Mansour Hadi from power in March 2015, Vice News reports.
Sunni Saudi Arabia formed a Gulf coalition to wrest control of Yemen away from the Houthis, who they say are in league with Shi’ite Iran. The Saudi bombing campaign has been bloody, and not focused on eradicating AQAP forces.
"Before the war, there was a concentrated effort on the ground to take on AQAP in Yemen," said AQAP expert Thomas Joscelyn. “Now, we don’t have that option on the table — the multi-sided civil has so many interests competing against each other, no one is that concerned in turning back AQAP advances.”
With over a thousand killed by bombing and with their food and health care services crumbling, many Yemeni civilians have been driven into the arms of AQAP, who have pledged to help them.
Now that Yemen has become a war zone, Jocelyn said that “The U.S. isn’t going to get directly involved, so we are going to be beholden to our proxy’s strategy.”
The al-Qaeda affiliate captured the Yemeni city of Azzan on Jan. 31, a huge strategic victory in securing control of the Shabwa province.
Baliedi played a part in targeting Western diplomatic buildings in the Yemeni city of Sanaa in 2013, prompting the U.S. to offer $5 million for information of his whereabouts, Reuters reports.
AQAP has been competing with the Islamic State (ISIL) for ideological control in Yemen. There had been speculation that Baliedi had defected from al-Qaeda to become the chief commander of ISIL in Yemen, but this was never confirmed by either group.