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: Al Houthis launch ballistic missile attack in Ma’rib city

Horn of Africa: Suspected al Shabaab militants attack bus in northeastern Kenya; Kenyan man defects from al Shabaab

Yemen Security Brief

The al Houthis launched ballistic missiles on unspecified targets in Ma’rib city, the capital of Ma’rib governorate east of the Yemeni capital Sana’a on January 23. The attack killed two people and injured others, according to local sources. UN-backed Yemeni Foreign Minister Mohammad Abdullah al Hadrami announced that the government would halt its obligations to the Hudaydah agreement and blamed the al Houthis for threatening to derail the peace efforts. The UN brokered the agreement seeking to implement a ceasefire and demilitarize the Yemeni port city of al Hudaydah, located along the central-western Yemeni coastline. Suspected al Houthis conducted a ballistic missile and drone attack on a Hadi government military training camp in Ma’rib governorate on January 18. The attack has sparked an escalation of violence around Sana’a with the Saudi-led coalition launching retaliatory airstrikes on al Houthi militants in eastern Sana’a governorate on January 23.[1]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Suspected al Shabaab militants ambushed a bus in Wajir county, located in northeastern Kenya on January 24. The attack injured two people. Witnesses said the militants shot at the bus damaging its front tire, causing passengers to disembark and flee to safety.[2]

A Kenyan citizen turned himself in to Kenyan police in the capital of Nairobi after claiming to have defected from al Shabaab. The Kenyan said he joined the group in June 2019 and traveled to the country’s coastal city of Mombasa in November 2019. He then traveled to Mandera county and departed for Somalia where he trained with the militants and pledged his loyalty to the group. The young man said he escaped al Shabaab after a month of training in Somalia and traveled back to Kenya through Garissa county. The suspect remains in Kenyan Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) custody while the unit interrogates him. Zubair al Muhajir, formerly a senior al Shabaab member, defected in October 2019 and turned himself in to the Somali Federal Government. Al Muhajir expressed frustration with the group’s hypocrisy and remains in government custody [3]

[1]“Yemen: Battles continue in Nihm and the Hudaydah agreement freezes,” Al Jazeera, January 24, 2020,اليمن-معارك-صنعاء-وزير-الخارجية-اتفاق-الحديدة; “UNMHA, Hudayduh Agreement,” UN, January 16, 2019,; and Jessica Kocan, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – January 23, 2020,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, January 23, 2020,

[2] “2 injured in suspected al-Shabaab bus attack,” Nation, January 24, 2020,

[3] “Kenyan man surrenders to police, claims to be al Shabaab defector,” Garowe, January 24, 2020,; and Jessica Kocan, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – January 22, 2020,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, January 22, 2020,

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Yemen: Saudi-led coalition forces continue airstrikes on al Houthis in Sana’a governorate; al Houthi officials meet with European diplomats for first time in five years; Sudanese forces withdraw from Mokha on Red Sea coast

Horn of Africa: AMISOM to withdraw 1,000 troops from Somalia by next month; Kenya rotates AMISOM troops in southern Somalia

Yemen Security Brief

The Saudi-led coalition conducted airstrikes targeting al Houthi militants in the Nihm and Khulan districts in eastern Sana’a governorate on January 23. The coalition resumed airstrikes in Nihm district on January 22 in retaliation for a suspected al Houthi ballistic missile and drone attack on a Hadi government military training camp in Ma’rib governorate on January 18. Pro-Hadi government media reported that forces loyal to President Hadi advanced in the Gerges mountain range in Nihm district on or around January 21.[1]

Representatives of the al Houthi-aligned National Salvation Government (NSG) met with three European ambassadors to discuss cooperation between the NSG, United Nations and other international humanitarian aid organizations. EU Ambassador to Yemen Hans Grundberg, EU Ambassador to France Christian Testor, and EU Ambassador of the Netherlands Irma van Dueren arrived in Sana’a on January 19 and20. The diplomats met with al Houthi Prime Minister Abdulaziz Bin Habtoor, President of the Supreme Political Council Mahdi al Mashat, and Supreme Political Council member Mohammad Ali al Houthi. This is the first high-level meeting between the al Houthis and European diplomats since March 2015.[2]

Sudanese troops operating as part of the Saudi-led coalition withdrew from the southwestern Yemeni port city of Mokha. The forces had been gradually withdrawing from the city over the last three months. Newly elected Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok vowed in December 2019 to withdraw Sudanese troops from Yemen.[3]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops withdrew from Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region on January 23, according to local sources. The African Union envoy to Somalia said earlier this month that AMISOM would withdraw 1,000 troops from the Middle Shabelle region by February 2020.[4]

The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) VIII troop unit withdrew from Kismayo, the capital of southern Somalia’s Jubbaland state, on January 21 after completing an AMISOM rotation. The KDF IX troop unit deployed to Somalia for a year-long assignment to replace the outbound unit. The KDF joined AMISOM in 2012 and provides about 3,000 troops to the force.[5]


[1] “Coalition forces shell al Houthi positions in Sana’a,” Al Mashhad, January 23, 2020,; Jessica Kocan, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – January 22, 2020,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, January 22, 2020,; “Report: Nihm Front – A Black Hole Swallows the al Houthis,” Khabar Agency, January 23, 2020,; “Yemen army chief calls to advance towards Sanaa,” Middle East Monitor, January 23, 2020,; and “The Yemeni army liberates the Gerges Mountains on the outskirts of Sanaa,” Teller Report, January 21, 2020,

[2] “Yemen: Houthi government meets with EU ambassadors,” Middle East Monitor, January 22, 2020,

[3] “Yemeni residents welcome withdrawal of Sudanese troops from port city Mocha,” Middle East Eye, January 23, 2020,

[4] “AMISOM troops leave Middle Shabelle region,” Mareeg, January 23, 2020,

[5] Abuga Makori, “KDF troops leave Somali as new contingent travel to Kismayo,” Garowe, January 22, 2020,

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Yemen: Saudi-led coalition conducts retaliatory airstrikes against al Houthis near Sana’a; al Houthis shell residential neighborhoods in Hudaydah governorate

Horn of Africa: Senior al Shabaab member defects to Somali government; Somali musician arrested for al Shabaab ties

Yemen Security Brief

The Saudi-led coalition retaliated against a recent al Houthi attack by conducting airstrikes targeting al Houthi militants in Nihm district in Sana’a governorate, about 37 miles northeast of Yemen’s capital Sana’a, on January 21. The airstrikes killed at least 35 people. Al Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces also exchanged rocket and artillery fire in Nihm district. Suspected al Houthi militants launched a ballistic missile and drone attack on a military training camp housing forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in northwestern Ma’rib governorate on January 18 in one of the highest-casualty attacks in Yemen’s civil war thus far.[1]

Al Houthi forces attacked residential neighborhoods using firearms in Hayes district in southern Hudaydah governorate on January 21, according to an anti–al Houthi source.[2]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Zubair al Muhajir, a senior al Shabaab foreign fighter, defected to the Somali Federal Government in October 2019. Al Muhajir served as the head of al Shabaab’s committee to settle an internal dispute between the group’s former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and three other commanders. Al Muhajir said he defected from al Shabaab due to his frustration with the organization’s hypocrisy in its implementation of shari’a law. Al Muhajir currently resides at a government safe house[3]

The Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) arrested a well-known Somali musician, Abshir Garane Ahmed, for his ties to al Shabaab. Ahmed confessed to being an informer and finance officer for the group.[4]

[1] Ahmed al Haj, “Saudi-led coalition resumes airstrikes near Yemeni capital,” AP, January 21, 2020,; Jessica Kocan, “Gulf of Aden Security Review – January 21, 2019” Critical Threats Project and the American Enterprise Institute, January 21, 2020,; and “Yemeni Army Advances toward Sanaa as Houthis suffer losses,” Al Arabiya, January 22, 20,

[2] “Houthi militia continues its crimes and shells residential neighborhoods in Hayes,” 7adramout, January 22, 2020,

[3] Harun Maruf, “Senior al-Shabaab Foreign Fighter Defects in Somalia,” VOA, January 21, 2020,

[4] “Somalia’s spy agency arrests musician over links to al-Shabaab,” Garowe, January 22, 2020,; and Abdulaziz Billow Ali, Twitter, January 21, 2020,

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