U.S. drone strike in Yemen kills the head of AQAP

In a significant blow to al-Qaeda, a U.S. drone strike last week vaporized the leader of its Yemen affiliate, AQAP, Nasir al-Wahishi, in the al-Qaeda port city of Mukalla.  That’s right: al-Qaeda has its own seaport now, which it took over in April.  Like ISIS, al-Qaeda has actual control of territory and is no longer merely skulking around in caves and canyons.

This brings us to the obvious question: since the enemy of the United States now has its own port, why isn’t the U.S. bombing it to smithereens?  It isn’t a question of intelligence: all working aspects of the port could easily be targeted by the U.S. Navy and Air Force for destruction using drone and satellite images alone.  But for some reason, the administration has balked at demolishing the terrorist port infrastructure.

Which brings us back to al-Wahishi.  It is possible that the CIA has decided to reap the one benefit of keeping Mukalla intact: using it as a death trap to attract and then hit senior leaders with drone strikes.  For if Mukalla were reduced to rubble by B-52s, no one would go there.

It does seem that AQAP terrorist leaders are drawn to the port like moths to a flame.  In addition to al-Wahishi, American drone strikes in Mukalla have killed Wahishi’s deputy Nasr al-Ansi, senior AQAP cleric Ibrahim al-Rubaish, and others.  The terrorist lure of walking about in your own territory proves too great to resist.

The CIA reportedly has two other AQAP bigwigs on its kill list, and one of them, Qassim al-Raimi, is now the successor leader of the organization and a major terrorist in his own right.  He planned out the foiled 2010 plot to put bombs in printers being flown to the U.S. on cargo planes, and he has acted basically as the group’s desert-based training director for new recruits.

Master bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asri is probably also on the list.  He made the printer-bombs for the U.S. cargo planes in 2010 and also the explosives for the 2009 underwear bomber who failed to detonate his lethal package while on the passenger jet.  He played a role in other plots as well.

But the importance of killing al-Wahishi cannot be underestimated.   Known as “Osama’s Black Box” because of the level of trust the terrorist emir placed in him, al-Wahishi was also an adjutant to the current al-Qaeda emir, terrorist-doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Al-Wahishi left Afghanistan to personally rebuild AQAP in his own image as a Westerner-hunting corporation of death.  The American bounty on his head was a pricey $10 million.

Al-Wahishi ordered this year’s Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people, the 2009 Underwear Bomber, the 2010 cargo planes plot, and others.  AQAP announced his death in roseate terms: "Our Muslim nation, one of your heroes and masters has departed to God. ... [He] took part with [al-Qaeda's] first generation in hurting America in different places of the world starting from the 1990's.”

At some point, the higher AQAP officials will learn to avoid their own port of Mukalla for fear of the drone strikes.  When that happens, the fate of the port must be sealed.

Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, was formerly with the American Enterprise Institute.