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.
Yemen: Suspected Houthi fighters attempt to seize sailboat near Hudaydah; STC and tribal forces refuse government military unit access to district in southern Yemen
Somalia: Gorgor secures villages in central Somalia; al Shabaab attempts to assassinate prominent Somali politician in Mogadishu; report reveals US-trained forces accidentally killed 22 civilians during infighting in northern Somalia in December 2021
Yemen Security Brief:
Suspected Houthi fighters may have attempted to seize a Hong Kong-flagged racing sailboat off the coast of Hudaydah, western Yemen, on May 19.[i] The fighters were likely not acting under orders from the Houthi movement. Key Houthi leader Muhammad Ali al Houthi denied responsibility for the attack on the sailboat.[ii]
Tribal forces and the Southern Transitional Council (STC)-aligned 111th Brigade refused to allow the Yemeni units under the Abyan Axis to enter Ahwar district, Abyan governorate, southern Yemen.[iii]
Somalia Security Brief:
Turkish-trained Gorgor special forces secured villages in Beledweyne district, Hiraan region, central Somalia, on May 19.[iv] Gorgor destroyed al Shabaab courts and bases in villages located between Beledweyne and Mataban. Al Shabaab left the villages before the security forces entered.
Al Shabaab detonated an improvised explosive device attempting to assassinate Somali politician Abdullahi Sheikh Hassan in Wadajir district, Mogadishu, on May 20.[v] Hassan survived the explosion and a local hospital is treating him.[vi] Al Shabaab militants targeted Hassan as he was leaving a mosque after Friday prayers.
Vice World News reported that the US-trained Puntland Security Forces (PSF) accidentally killed 22 civilians using US-supplied mortars during infighting in Bossaso, Bari region, northern Somalia, in December 2021.[vii] The Vice report said the mortars were for training, but that the PSF deployed them “wildly” and inaccurately. The Puntland president sparked the infighting when he attempted to dismiss the PSF commander and integrate the PSF as part of the regular state forces.[viii] Navy Seals mentor and train the US-created paramilitary force to target Islamic State and al Shabaab militants operating in the mountains of northern Somalia.
[i] Jon Gambrell and Isabel Debre, “Famed racing sailboat attacked by gunmen off war-torn Yemen,” Associated Press, May 20, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-united-kingdom-dubai-arab-emirates-7d6930151eeadf58d9d1708dd47762ef.
[ii] Muhammad Ali al Houthi, Twitter, May 19, 2022, https://twitter.com/Moh_Alhouthi/status/1527360427793223680?s=20&t=ib_W4w7FHK3lxBldUgNvDw.
[iii] SMA News, “The military leadership of the Southern Resistance in Ahwar refused to keep Zamki militias in the district,” May 19, 2022, https://smanews.org/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%86%d9%88%d8%a8-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b9%d8%b1%d8%a8%d9%8a/281748/; and 26Sep ROYG, “A joint security force from the Abyan axis carries out a field descent to Ahwar with the aim of securing the directorate and the international line,” May 18, 2022, https://www.26sepnews.net/2022/05/18/1-9121/.
[v] SNTV News, Twitter, May 20, 2022, https://twitter.com/sntvnews1/status/1527623798463373314?s=20&t=TUfGhC9H4iUB4V03yzErAQ.
[vi] Ali Muhiyaddiin, ‘Prominent Somali politician killed in Mogadishu blast,” Caasimada, May 20, 2022, https://www.caasimada.net/siyaasi-caan-ah-oo-qarax-lagula-eegtay-muqdisho/.
[vii] Amanda Sperber, “Revealed: CIA-Trained Militia Used US-Made Weapons in Deadly Attack,” Vice Global News, May 20, 2022, https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/5dg7wn/puntland-security-force-somalia-cia.
[viii] Brian Carter and Liam Karr, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – December 3, 2021,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 3, 2021, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-december-3-2021.
Yemen: US secretary of state meets with Yemeni foreign minister; high-level Saudi delegation meets with US national security advisor; UN special envoy to Yemen provides an update on UN-brokered truce in Yemen
Somalia: Security forces recapture base in southern Somalia overran by al Shabaab in early May; SNA claims to destroy a courthouse and bases in al Shabaab-controlled southwestern Somalia; Kenyan police arrest al Shabaab members in northeastern Kenya; al Shabaab mortars state forces’ base in northern Somalia
Yemen Security Brief:
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak in Washington, DC to discuss Yemen’s UN-brokered truce on May 17.[i] Blinken emphasized the importance of reopening roads around Taiz, southwestern Yemen, a key condition of the truce. Bin Mubarak accused the Houthis of blocking the reopening of roads in Taiz.[ii]
A high-level Saudi delegation including the Saudi deputy defense minister and Saudi ambassador to Yemen met with the US national security advisor in Washington, DC on May 18.[iii] The two parties discussed Yemen’s truce, global economic resilience, and the US-Saudi partnership. Saudi state media did not mention a discussion of global economic resilience.[iv] US-Saudi relations have been strained as oil prices rise during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[v]
The UN special envoy to Yemen provided an update on the UN-brokered truce in Yemen.[vi] He confirmed the Yemeni government allowed 11 of 18 fuel ships required under the truce to enter Hudaydah’s port. The envoy said the Yemeni government also appointed a delegation to attend talks with the Houthis in Amman, Jordan to discuss reopening roads in Taiz. The Houthis have not appointed a delegation.
Somalia Security Brief:
Somali National Army (SNA) and Burundian African Union Transition Mission in Somalia forces recaptured their base in El Baraf, Jowhar district, Middle Shabelle, southern Somalia, on May 17.[vii] Security forces mortared the base before using helicopters to airlift troops into the base.[viii] Al Shabaab militants overran the base on May 3 and killed dozens of Burundian soldiers.[ix]
SNA forces claimed to destroy an al Shabaab courthouse and several bases in southern Bay region, southwestern Somalia, on May 18.[x] SNA commanders said troops destroyed a courthouse and several bases near Moodo-Moodo, Baidoa district; Bula Fulay, Burhakaba district; and Rama Addey, Dinsoor district. Al Shabaab has controlled areas of Bula Fulay district for years and published photos of Eid al Fitr celebrations in Bula Fulay district on May 6.[xi]
Kenyan police arrested at least six al Shabaab militants in Mandera town, Mandera County, northeastern Kenya, on May 17. The police acted on a tip from the public.[xii]
Al Shabaab mortared a Puntland State forces base in Galgala, Bossaso district, Bari region, northern Somalia, on May 17.[xiii] Al Shabaab claims the attack wounded eight soldiers, though independent media initially reported one injured soldier.[xiv]
[i] US Department of State, “Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Yemen Foreign Minister Bin Mubarak,” May 17, 2022, https://www.state.gov/secretary-blinkens-meeting-with-yemen-foreign-minister-bin-mubarak/.
[ii] Al Masdar Online, “Foreign Minister during his meeting with his American counterpart: The Houthi militia is procrastinating in implementing its commitments related to lifting the siege on the city of Taiz,” May 18, 2022, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/251932.
[iii] The White House, “ Readout from NSC Spokesperson Adrienne Watson on National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman,” May 17, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/17/readout-from-nsc-spokesperson-adrienne-watson-on-national-security-advisor-jake-sullivans-meeting-with-saudi-vice-minister-of-defense-khalid-bin-salman/.
[iv] Saudi Press Agency, “By order of the Crown Prince … Deputy Defense Minister arrived in Washington on an official visit and met with US National Security Advisor,” May 18, 2022, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=fa&newsid=2354961.
[v] Martin Chulov, “Biden rebuffed as US relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE hit new low,” The Guardian, April 3, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/apr/03/us-relations-saudi-arabia-uae-oil-crisis.
[vi] UN Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, “Special Envoy’s Remarks to the Press Following Closed Consultations with the Security Council,” May 17, 2022, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/special-envoy%E2%80%99s-remarks-press-following-closed-consultations-security-council.
[vii] SONNA, “Somali, AU forces recapture El-Baraf base in Middle Shabelle region,” May 17, 2022, https://sonna.so/en/2022/05/17/somali-au-forces-recapture-el-baraf-base-in-middle-shabelle-region/.
[viii] Istar Abdi Yusuf, “Burundian forces retake El-Baraf,” Caasimada, May 17, 2022, https://www.caasimada.net/ciidamada-burundi-oo-dib-ula-wareegay-ceel-baraf/.
[ix] Christopher Muth and Liam Karr, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – May 4, 2022,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, May 4, 2022, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-may-4-2022.
[x] Radio Risaala, “Government forces seize areas in Bay region,” May 18, 2022, https://radiorisaala.com/ciidamada-dowladda-oo-la-wareegay-degaano-katirsan-gobolka-baay/.
[xi] Calamada, “Pictures of celebration in Bulo Fulay,” May 6, 2022, https://calamada.com/sawirrada-sida-looga-ciiday-buulofulaay/.
[xii] Halbeeg, “Kenya arrests six al Shabaab suspects in Mandera,” May 18, 2022, https://en.halbeeg.com/2022/05/18/kenya-arrests-six-al-shabaab-suspects-in-mandera/.
[xiii] Puntland Post, “Al-Shabaab launches mortar attack on Puntland military base in Galgala,” May 17, 2022, https://puntlandpost.net/2022/05/17/al-shabaab-oo-weerar-hoobiyaal-ah-ku-qaadday-saldhiga-ciidamada-puntland-ee-galgala/.
[xiv] Radio al Furqan, “Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu and Lower Shabelle,” May 17, 2022, https://radioalfurqaan.com/2022/05/howlgallo-askar-lagu-dilay-oo-ka-dhacay-muqdisho-iyo-shabeellaha-hoose/.
Yemen: Possible Houthi gunmen assassinate military officer in Ma’rib; Houthi militants attempt to assassinate military commander in Aden with VBIED; first flight departs Sana’a since 2016
Somalia: Biden authorizes the redeployment of SOF to Somalia and Pentagon targeting of al Shabaab leaders; Burundian ATMIS forces abandon base in southern Somalia to consolidate forces in response to al Shabaab’s May 3 raid
Yemen Security Brief:
Possible Houthi gunmen assassinated a 159th Infantry Brigade staff officer in Ma’rib City, central Yemen, on May 14.[i]
Likely Houthi militants detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) targeting the head of Joint Operations in the 4th Military Region in Mualla district, Aden city, southern Yemen on May 15.[ii] The VBIED did not kill the officer, who was riding in an armored car.[iii] Local officials in Aden said the explosives used in the attack were less powerful than the explosives in previous attacks targeting military officers. The Yemeni government accused the Houthis of working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the attack.[iv]
A Yemenia Airways flight to Amman, Jordan, on May 16 was the first flight from Sana’a International Airport since 2016.[v] Reopening Sana’a International Airport was one of the stipulations under the UN-brokered truce that began in early April.
Somalia Security Brief:
US President Joe Biden authorized the redeployment of special operations forces to Somalia in early May and granted the Pentagon standing authority to target nearly a dozen al Shabaab leaders.[vi] The order allows for the redeployment of “hundreds” of special force personnel according to anonymous US officials. Former President Donald Trump withdrew US forces from Somalia in January 2021 and adopted an over-the-horizon posture, operating from Kenya and Djibouti. US forces historically gave training, advisory, and logistical support to the Somali National Army Danab special forces. The leak comes less than 24 hours after Somalia elected a new president more than one year after the original election date.[vii]
Burundian ATMIS forces abandoned a forward operating base near Gululei, Balad district, Middle Shabelle, southern Somalia, on May 14.[viii] Al Shabaab immediately took over and looted the base. The troops redeployed to reinforce bases near Bal’ad, Jowhar, and two other towns in Middle Shabelle.[ix] The move is reportedly to prevent al Shabaab from overrunning another base in Middle Shabelle. Al Shabaab overran El Baraf base, Middle Shabelle, on May 3.[x]
[ii] Asharq al Awsat, “Yemeni military commander survives assassination attempt in Aden,” May 15, 2022, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/3647931/yemeni-military-commander-survives-assassination-attempt-aden.
[iii] Asharq al Awsat, “An armored car protects a military leader from assassination in Aden,” May 15, 2022, https://aawsat.com/home/article/3645041/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B0-%D8%AD%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8D-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B6%D9%85-%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%AB%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%AE%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%85%D9%84%D9%83%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B0-%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A9.
[iv] Mareb Press, “Urgent al Eryani reveals a joint terrorist operation between al Qaeda and the Houthis,” May 15, 2022, https://marebpress.net/news_details.php?sid=184270&lang=arabic.
[v] Ahmed al Haj and Samy Magdy, “1st commercial flight in years takes off from Yemen’s Sanaa,” Associated Press, May 16, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-jordan-amman-yemen-sanaa-b6961b38f94b1abeef5f752d41db78f0.
[vi] Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Biden Approves Plan to Redeploy Several Hundred Ground Forces Into Somalia,” New York Times, May 16, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/16/us/politics/biden-military-somalia.html.
[vii] Goobjoog, “Mr. President: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud elected Somalia's 10th President,” May 15, 2022, https://goobjoog.com/english/mr-president-hassan-sheikh-mohamud-elected-somalias-10th-president/.
[viii] Radio Dalsan, “Al Shabaab seizes control of Bal’ad district in Middle Shabelle,” May 14, 2022, https://www.radiodalsan.com/wararka-idaacadda/al-shabaab-oo-galabta-la-wareegay-degaan-hoostega-degmada-balcad-ee-sh-dhexe/.
[ix] @HarunMaruf, Twitter, May 14, 2022, https://twitter.com/HarunMaruf/status/1525565099586510848.
[x] Christopher Muth and Liam Karr, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – May 4, 2022” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, May 4, 2022, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-may-4-2022.