The Wall Street Journal reports that, “Yemeni officials said Wednesday that the country’s security forces had broken up several plots by al Qaeda militants but the government distanced itself from those reports later in the day…”
It’s not until the end of the report that we get a more informative picture of the much publicized threat from al Qaeda in Yemen: that it comes from no more than a few dozen men.
Yemeni armed forces conduct periodic high-profile land operations against militants whose affiliation with al Qaeda isn’t clear.
Estimates vary about the number of hard-core al Qaeda members in Yemen. Yemeni officials say the number is in the low hundreds. Regional intelligence agencies have published lists showing the most dangerous al Qaeda operatives number in the dozens.
Those most-wanted lists don’t include the numerous tribal and militant groups that also exist in Yemen, which have waged a yearslong battle against the central government and which sometimes make temporary alliances with al Qaeda members from their tribe or village.
The elastic definition of who is a threat is often illustrated in the death tolls announced after suspected U.S. drone attacks.
On Wednesday, six suspected militants were killed in a strike on two vehicles in the country’s southern Shabwa province, according to Yemeni officials. The identities of those killed remained unclear. In the five suspected U.S. missile strikes that have taken place in the last two weeks, only one of the 20 men reportedly killed was on Yemen’s most-wanted terrorist list.