Gulf of Aden Security Review

A regularly updated review of both Yemen and the Horn of Africa covering topics related to security, governance, and militant activity.{{authorBox.message}}



Yemen: Russia opposes UN resolution draft condemning Iran; senior al Houthi movement official proposes a peace initiative to the UN; senior al Houthi movement official calls on anti-Saudi-led coalition factions to reconcile; Saudi-led coalition airstrike kills 15 civilians in Sa’ada governorate

Horn of Africa: AFRICOM conducts airstrike against al Shabaab in Jamaame, Lower Jubba region; Ethiopian Somali Regional State pardons 1,500 political prisoners; al Shabaab militants ambush SNA and AMISOM convoy near Afgoi, Lower Shabelle region; report warns of Somali Federal Government abuse of al Shabaab children

Yemen Security Brief

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia opposed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would condemn Iran for providing sophisticated weaponry to the al Houthi movement and expand ballistic missile sanctions that would likely target Iran on February 21. The U.S., UK, and France attached the expanded sanctions and condemnation to a resolution to renew existing UN sanctions and the mandate for an independent panel of experts on Yemen. The resolution needs to be adopted by February 26. Nebenzia asserted that the U.S. has not made a sufficient case proving that Iran supplied ballistic missiles to the al Houthi movement on January 31.[1]

Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee Mohammed Ali al Houthi proposed an initiative to end the Yemeni conflict to the UN Security Council on February 21. The initiative outlined a six-point plan that includes the establishment of a reconciliation committee, elections, international guarantees to start reconstruction, an end to foreign military intervention in Yemen, amnesty for Yemeni combatants and prisoners held by all parties in Yemen, and referendums to resolve contested issues. Al Houthi also stressed the need to lift all land, air, and sea blockades on Yemen.[2]

Al Houthi movement Supreme Political Council President Saleh al Samad called on anti–Saudi-led coalition factions to reconcile tensions stemming from late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s split from the al Houthi movement in December 2017 during a February 21 meeting. Samad hosted a meeting between al Houthi provincial governors, Sana’a-based General People’s Congress (GPC) party officials, and representatives from the al Houthi movement’s political party Ansar Allah. Al Houthi forces killed Saleh in December, causing a rift between some members of the GPC and the al Houthi movement. Samad pledged to release the remaining political prisoners detained by al Houthi forces in the wake of an al Houthi crackdown of Saleh loyalists in Sana’a within three days. Samad affirmed the al Houthi movement’s desire for peace but appealed for a recruitment drive to confront the Saudi-led coalition.[3] 

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed 15 civilians in al Safra district, Sa’ada governorate, northern Yemen on February 21. Reuters reported that the airstrikes targeted two cars and a truck transporting civilians and damaged the main road between Sana’a and Sa’ada. A UN panel of experts report on January 26 expressed continued concern over Saudi-led coalition airstrikes disproportionately affecting civilians.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) killed four al Shabaab militants in an airstrike near Jamaame, Lower Jubba region, southern Somalia on February 21. The U.S. has conducted two airstrikes against al Shabaab targets in the Lower Jubba region this week. AFRICOM conducted an airstrike targeting al Shabaab near Jilib, killing three militants on February 19. The U.S. conducted over 30 airstrikes against al Shabaab in 2017 after President Donald Trump expanded U.S. military efforts against al Shabaab in Somalia.[5] 

The Ethiopian Somali Regional State pardoned 1,500 detainees in Jijiga, Somali region, eastern Ethiopia, citing the Ethiopian government’s efforts to promote reforms and ease tensions. Among those released were political prisoners and members of the Somali separatist group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The Somali and Ethiopian governments declared the ONLF a terrorist group in 2015. Representatives from the Ethiopian government and the ONLF commenced peace talks earlier this month and the Ethiopian government has released thousands of prisoners since January 2018. The Ethiopian Council of Ministers declared a six-month state of emergency due to the country’s volatile security situations on February 16, one day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned.[6] 

Al Shabaab militants ambushed a Somali National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military convoy near Afgoi district, Lower Shabelle region, southern Somalia on February 22. The militants targeted SNA and AMISOM troops as they traveled between the Afgoi and Bal’ad districts. Al Shabaab claimed militants seized control of the targeted area along the corridor that connects both districts. Major roadways linking the capital Mogadishu to nearby cities cross through Afgoi. US-backed SNA and AMISOM operations are disrupting al Shabaab strongholds in the Lower Shabelle region.[7]

Somali authorities are illegally detaining and abusing children who are allegedly associated with al Shabaab, according to a Human Rights Watch report. The Somali Federal Government has violated a 2014 agreement with the UN, which required Somali authorities to consistently send al Shabaab children to UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) rehabilitation centers and treat child detainees separately from adults. The report warned that the Somali Federal Government’s abusive handling of al Shabaab children compounds citizens’ fear and mistrust of Somali security forces. Al Shabaab forcibly recruited thousands of children, hundreds of which have been detained by Somali authorities, over the past few years.[8]

[1] “Russia resists Western bid to condemn Iran at U.N. over Yemen arms,” Reuters, Februrary 21, 2018,
[2] “The al Houthi movement offers an initiative to the UN Security Council that includes stopping the war and electing a president and parliament,” Al Masdar, February 22, 2018,; and Mohammed Ali al Houthi’s initiative to the UN Security Council, Twitter, February 21, 2018,
[3] “President al Samad heads an expanded meeting with the leaders of the state and governorate governors,” Saba News, February 21, 2018,
[4] “At least 15 dead in air strike in northern Yemen: residents,” Reuters, February 21, 2018,
[5] “U.S. Conducts Airstrike in Support of the Federal Government of Somalia,” United States Africa Command Press Releases, February 22, 2018,; and “US says airstrike in Somalia kills 3 al-Shabab militants,” Radio Shabelle, February 21, 2018,
[6] “Ethiopia Releases 1500 Prisoner In Jigjiga,” Radio Dalsan, February 22, 2018,; “Ethiopia's Somali state pardons 1,500 detainees,” Xinhua, February 22, 2018,; and “Ethiopia’s Somali state pardons 1,500 detainees,” February 22, 2018,
[7] “Al Shabaab launches ambush on Somali, AU troops near Afgoye,” Radio Shabelle, February 22, 2018,
[8] “‘It’s Like We’re Always in a Prison’ Abuses Against Boys Accused of National Security Offenses in Somalia,” Human Rights Watch, February 21, 2018,; “Report: Somali Authorities Abuse Children Linked to Al-Shabab,” Voice of America, February 21, 2018,; “Somalia: Detained Children Face Abuse,” Human Rights Watch, February 21, 2018,; “Detained Somali Children Face Abuse, says HRW,” Radio Shabelle, February 22, 2018,; and “Somali children abused in anti-insurgency crackdown, families say,” Reuters, February 22, 2018,

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Yemen: Iran denies transferring ballistic missiles to al Houthi movement; reported U.S. airstrike kills two AQAP militants in al Bayda governorate; AQAP militants attack Emirati-backed forces with IED in Abyan governorate

Horn of Africa: AFRICOM conducts airstrike against al Shabaab in Jilib, Middle Jubba region; Kenyan officials comply with court order to return opposition lawyer’s passport; Kenyan immigration officials prevent opposition members from traveling; al Shabaab escalates indoctrination and extortion amid declining morale

Yemen Security Brief

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denied Iran’s involvement with transferring ballistic missile components to the al Houthi movement and stated that Iran will support any effort to end the Yemeni civil war on February 21. A UN Panel of Experts found Iran guilty of preventing the direct or indirect supply of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles to the al Houthi movement on February 14. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasimi demanded arms sales to Saudi Arabia cease on February 21.[1] 

A reported U.S. airstrike killed two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in al Hamiqan area, near al Bayda city in central Yemen on February 18. The U.S. frequently targets AQAP militants in al Bayda governorate to degrade AQAP’s ability to conduct local and external operations.[2]

AQAP militants detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Emirati-backed al Hizam Security Forces in al Mahfad district, Abyan governorate, southern Yemen on February 18. AQAP militants attacked al Hizam Security Forces three other times in February in an attempt to compel security forces to withdraw from al Mahfad.[3]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) killed three al Shabaab militants in an airstrike near Jilib, Middle Jubba region, southern Somalia on February 19. Al Shabaab’s Shahada News Agency claimed that militants killed an American soldier and four Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers in Bulo Gadud near Kismayo city in Lower Jubba region, southern Somalia on February 20. AFRICOM denied that al Shabaab killed any American soldier in the engagement. U.S.-backed SNA and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces recaptured several al Shabaab-controlled bases and military checkpoints in the Lower Shabelle region in the past week.[4] 

The Kenyan Director of Immigration complied with the High Court’s directive and surrendered the passport of opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna to the court on February 21. The High Court declared that the Interior Ministry’s decision to deport Miguna to Canada was illegal on February 15. Kenyan police arrested Miguna on February 2 for participating in the symbolic inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga on January 30 and for his membership in the National Resistance Movement, which the Interior Ministry declared a criminal group on January 31. Authorities stated that they deported Miguna because he did not apply for Kenyan citizenship after revisions to the 2010 constitution allowed dual citizenship.[5]

Kenyan immigration officials barred two opposition members from leaving Kenya for Zimbabwe on February 19. The officials claimed that opposition figures Senator James Orengo and financier Jimi Wanjigi did not present court orders to overturn the suspension of their passports that would permit them to leave the country. Immigration officials held Orengo and Wanjigi on February 19 but allowed them to fly on February 20. Orengo and Wanjigi planned to attend the funeral of a Zimbabwean opposition leader. Authorities did not prevent opposition leader Raila Odinga from traveling to the funeral.[6]

Al Shabaab defectors revealed to Somali authorities that militants are intensifying extortion and indoctrination efforts amid worsening morale, according to a report from The Guardian. Defectors said that al Shabaab is suffering from financial shortages and defections, causing it to increase taxes on citizens and seize children to be suicide bombers and soldiers. Increased operations by U.S.-backed SNA and AMISOM forces against al Shabaab strongholds have caused internal distrust within the group. Al Shabaab’s Islamic courts have ordered the execution of suspected spies and intensified punishments in recent weeks.[7]

[1] “President Rouhani: Tehran welcomes cementing ties with EU, including Netherlands,” IRNA, February 21, 2018,; and “Tehran calls on the West to stop supplying Saudi arms,” Al Masirah, February 21, 2018,
[2] “Two al Qaeda members were killed in al Bayda in a U.S. raid,” Ababiil, February 18, 2018,
[3] AQAP militants detonated an IED in Mahfad, Telegram, February 18, 2018.
[4] “U.S. military denies Al-Shabaab killed its soldier in Somalia,” Xinhua Net, February 21, 2018,; “U.S. military denies Al-Shabaab killed its soldier in Somalia,” Radio Shabelle, February 21, 2018,; “Shabaab Claims Killing American Soldier, 4 Somali Forces in Bulo Gadud,” SITE Intelligence Group, February 20, 2018, available by subscription at; and “U.S. Conducts Airstrike in Support of the Federal Government of Somalia,” United States Africa Command Press Releases, February 21, 2018,
[5] “Win for Miguna Miguna as passport is surrendered to court,” Standard Media, February 21, 2018,; and “Immigration boss surrenders Miguna's perforated passport,” The Star, February 21, 2018,
[6] “Kenya allows opposition figures to travel after barring them overnight,” Reuters, February 20, 2018,; and “Kenya allows opposition figures to fly to Zimbabwe Kenyan,” BBC, February 20, 2018.
[7] “Al-Shabaab plundering starving Somali villages of cash and children,” The Guardian, February 21, 2018,

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Yemen: The U.S., France, and the UK call for renewed UN sanctions on Yemen and Iran; U.S. and other western countries reaffirm support for Yemeni peace talks; Emirati and Yemeni forces clear AQAP from valley west of al Mukalla city, Hadramawt governorate; Emirati-backed forces attack al Houthi forces in al Jarahi district, al Hudaydah governorate

Horn of Africa: Ethiopian government says state of emergency will last six months; SNA and AMISOM forces conduct joint operation against al Shabaab in Barawe, Lower Shabelle region; Somali government appoints new police commander and NISA director

Yemen Security Brief

The U.S., France, and the UK called for renewed UN sanctions on Yemen and Iran over Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles to the al Houthi movement on February 17. The UK drafted a French and American-supported UN Security Council resolution that included updated UN sanctions on Yemen for another year and imposing sanctions for “any activity related to the use of ballistic missiles in Yemen.” The al Houthi movement uses sophisticated weaponry from Iran against Saudi-led coalition and Hadi government forces in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.[1]

The U.S. and other western countries emphasized their support for renewed UN-led political talks in Yemen. U.S. Deputy Chief of mission in Yemen Anna Escrogina and other western diplomats reaffirmed their support for the Yemeni peace process in meetings with President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid Bin Daghr in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 19. Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the meetings with the Hadi government are aimed at preparing for the new round of talks expected to begin under new UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths in March.[2]

Emirati-backed Hadhrami Elite Forces, supported by Emirati air assets, claimed to clear al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants from al Mesini valley, west of al Mukalla city, Hadramawt governorate, eastern Yemen on February 18. Emirati-backed forces began an offensive to clear AQAP strongholds in rural areas of Hadramawt on February 15. AQAP militants destroyed a security building in Amd district, central Hadramawt and clashed with Hadhrami Elite forces on February 16. AQAP militants also fired two Grad rockets at a Hadhrami Elite camp in Bedah, Daw’an district, between Amd and al Mukalla in central Hadramawt on February 18.[3] 

Emirati-backed forces attacked al Houthi forces in al Jarahi district, al Hudaydah governorate, western Yemen on February 18. The Saudi-led coalition renewed an offensive in December 2017 to seize Yemen’s western coast up to al Hudaydah port from the al Houthi movement. Emirati-backed forces seized Hays city, south of al Jarahi, on February 5. Al Houthi forces are counterattacking coalition-backed forces along Yemen’s western coast. Al Houthi forces ambushed a convoy of Emirati-backed forces in Hays district on February 18. The UAE’s state-run news agency reported an Emirati soldier died participating in the Saudi-led coalition but did not provide details on the location or circumstances of his death. Emirati air defenses shot down an al Houthi ballistic missile in Mokha city, Taiz governorate, south of al Hudaydah on February 18.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

The Ethiopian defense minister said on February 17 that the nationwide state of emergency will last for six months, citing the need to stabilize the country. Violent outbreaks continued in several parts of Ethiopia after the state of emergency was declared on February 16. American and European officials opposed the Ethiopian government’s decision. The Ethiopian Council of Ministers declared the state of emergency on February 16, one day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. The last state of emergency began in October 2016 and lasted for 10 months in which hundreds died in clashes between police and protesters.[5]

Somali National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces conducted a joint operation to clear the port city of Barawe and secure roads blockaded by al Shabaab in Lower Shabelle region, southern Somalia on February 18. SNA and AMISOM forces have recaptured several villages from al Shabaab in Lower Shabelle since February 12.[6] 

The Somali Federal Government appointed a new director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) and commander of the Somali Police Force on February 19. The Somali cabinet endorsed General Bashir Abdi Mohamed as police commander and Hussein Osman Hussein as NISA director. The appointments come four months after Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo fired the previous commanders in October 2017 after a series of al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu.[7]

[1] “U.N. council mulls condemning Iran over Yemen’s Houthis’ getting missiles,” Reuters, February 17, 2018,

[2] “Western Diplomatic Efforts to Activate Yemeni Talks,” Asharq al Awsat, February 20, 2018,
[3] AQAP destroys security building in Amd district, Telegram, February 16, 2018; “Killed and wounded in the ranks of al Qaeda in Hadramawt,” Al Gaaded, February 19, 2018,; “Government forces storm an al Qaeda position in the al Mesini valley west of Mukalla,” Al Masdar, February 18, 2018,; “Six government soldiers and a number of al Qaeda members were killed in clashes between the two sides west of Mukalla,” Al Masdar, February 17, 2018,; “Coalition forces begin the al Faisal process to control al Mesini valley in Hadramawt,” Al Masdar, February 17, 2018,; and AQAP fires two Grad rockets in Bedah, February 17, 2018, Telegram.
[4] “UAE shoots down Houthi missile over Mocha, Yemen,” The National, February 18, 2018,; “Arab Coalition intercepts ballistic missile over Yemen coastal city,” Al Arabiya, February 18, 2018,; “One Emirati soldier was killed and two others injured in an attack by the Houthis in Hays, southern al Hudaydah,” Al Masdar, February 18, 2018,; “Legitimacy overthrows Houthi's defenses,” Al Bayan, February 18, 2018,; “Houthis suffer major losses in Yemen's Hodeidah,” The National, February 20, 2018,; “Progress of the army in al Jarahi district, latest developments,” Yemen Voice, February 17, 2018,; “Yemeni ambassador condolences to martyr Ali Khalifa Al-Mesmari,” WAM, February 20, 2018,
[5] “Ethiopia says state of emergency will last six months,” Reuters, February 17, 2018,; “A Placeholder Prime Minister Departs. What Comes Next?,” New York Times, February 18, 2018,; “Ethiopia's state of emergency 2.0,” Al Jazeera, February 19, 2018,; and “News: PM Haimeariam’s resignation opens period of uncertainty, State of Emergency undermines smooth transition : EU,” Addis Standard, February 19, 2018,
[6] “Somali forces carry out massive operation near Barawe town,” Radio Shabelle, February 18, 2018,
[7] “Somalia Appoints New Security Chiefs to Combat al-Shabab,” Voice of America, February 19, 2018,; “Somalia appoints Police and Intelligence commanders,” Radio Shabelle, February 19, 2018,; “BREAKING: Major security shake-up after emergency cabinet meeting,” Hiiraan Online, February 19, 2018,; and “Somalia Appoints New NISA, Police & Prison Chiefs,” Radio Dalsan, February 19, 2018,
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