A senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed in Yemen last week by a U.S. airstrike, U.S. Central Command announced Thursday.
Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, the emir for AQAP's terrorist stronghold in the Shabwah governorate, was killed in the strike along with two of his associates, according to a Centcom press release.
"Al Awlaqi was a senior leader responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against civilians," CENTCOM said in a statement. "He had significant influence throughout AQAP's terrorist stronghold, had ties and access to the group's other senior leaders, and was implicated in planning and leading efforts to exacerbate instability in southern Yemen."
The June 16 airstrike was part of a broader counterterrorism operation being conducted by U.S. forces in Yemen focused on degrading AQAP's "ability to hold territory and coordinate external terror attacks."
U.S. military operations in Yemen have been stepped up in recent months as AQAP actively plans attacks on Western targets. A U.S. Special Forces raid in May resulted in the death of seven suspected al Qaeda militants.
Operations in Yemen were the focus of criticism after an earlier raid in January 2017 resulted in the death of a U.S. Navy SEAL and local civilians. Intelligence gathered during that raid has since been linked to the Department of Homeland Security's decision to ban laptops and tablets on some international flights.
As for the June airstrike, U.S. officials said the operation was conducted with the full support of the Yemeni government.
"U.S. forces conducted this strike with the full support of the government of Yemen," Centcom said. "In conjunction with our Arab allies, the U.S. will continue to support their efforts and fight terrorist organizations like AQAP."