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: UN Special Envoy for Yemen announces official agreement for prisoner exchange; al Hudaydah ceasefire set to begin on December 18; Saudi Arabia denounces U.S. Senate resolutions on Yemen and Khashoggi; President Hadi meets with U.S. ambassador to Yemen in Riyadh; Iranian foreign ministry official meets European External Action Service chief in Tehran

Horn of Africa: Italian police arrest ISIS-linked Somali national for plot to bomb Vatican; ISIS claims to kill 14 al Shabaab fighters in Puntland; AFRICOM airstrikes kill 62 al Shabaab fighters in Lower Shabelle region; South West State election committee removes former deputy al Shabaab leader from ballot; AMISOM announces joint operation with SNA and Jubbaland forces in Middle Jubba region

Yemen Security Brief  

The Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) gave details of the planned prisoner exchange between President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government and the al Houthi movement on December 17. The agreement gives each party one week to release prisoners after receiving a list from the other party. The agreement also mandates the creation of a committee to handle the exchange that will include representatives from OSESGY, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and each of the parties.[1]

All parties to the al Hudaydah ceasefire agreement announced that the ceasefire will take effect at midnight local time on December 18. Al Houthi forces and pro-Hadi government forces clashed intermittently in al Hudaydah city over the weekend after the close of UN-led consultations in Sweden. Senior al Houthi military official Yahya Sarea stated that he hopes the ceasefire will be effective, but that his forces remain vigilant and ready to react.[2]

Saudi Arabia denounced two U.S. Senate resolutions on December 16 that criticize Saudi Arabia for its military campaign in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia labeled the resolutions an attempt to interfere in Saudi internal affairs based on “unsubstantiated claims and allegations.”[3]

President Hadi met with U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 17. Hadi and Tueller discussed the latest developments in Yemen. Tueller reiterated Washington’s support to the Hadi government and the UN peace efforts in Yemen.[4]

Iranian Foreign Ministry Senior Adviser Jaberi Ansari met with European External Action Service Secretary General Helga Schmid in Tehran on December 10. Ansari and Schmid discussed the Syrian and Yemeni peace processes.[5]

 Horn of Africa Security Brief

Italian counter-terrorism police arrested a Somali national on terrorism charges in Bari, southern Italy on December 13. The individual was a member of ISIS in Somalia and was in contact with an operational cell, according to Italian intelligence officials. The individual had planned to bomb churches around Christmas, including St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.[6]

ISIS claimed to kill 14 al Shabaab fighters in Bur Meirale, Puntland, northern Somalia on December 15. The attack has not been confirmed. ISIS threatened al Shabaab in its newsletter in November after al Shabaab purged multiple alleged ISIS sympathizers from its ranks.[7]

United States Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM) killed at least 62 al Shabaab fighters in six airstrikes near Gendershe, Lower Shabelle region, southern Somalia on December 15 and 16. Four strikes killed 34 militants on December 15 and two others on December 16 killed 28. AFRICOM has conducted nearly 50 airstrikes in 2018, killing 300 al Shabaab militants.[8]

The South West State election committee announced on December 16 that former deputy al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow will not be on the ballot for the December 19 state presidential election. The committee stated that Robow’s arrest disqualifies him even though he meets other election criteria. Somali Federal Government (SFG) security forces arrested Robow in Baidoa, the South West capital, on December 13 and accused Robow of mobilizing militias within Baidoa. The SFG had previously attempted to bar Robow from running. The head of The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) stated on December 15 that AMISOM forces were not involved in Robow’s arrest.[9]

AMISOM is planning a joint operation with the Somali National Army (SNA) and Jubbaland security forces to clear al Shabaab strongholds in Middle Jubba region, southern Somalia.[10]

[1] “Agreement for the exchange of prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest,” OSESGY, December 17, 2018,

[2] “Clashes continue in Hudaydah ahead of ceasefire,” Al Jazeera, December 17, 2018,; “Yemen warring parties say port city ceasefire starts on Tuesday,” Reuters, December 16, 2018,; and “Clashes precede ceasefire in al Hudaydah,” Almawqea, December 17, 2018,

[3] Saudi Foreign Ministry, Twitter, December 16, 2018,; and “Saudi Arabia denounces U.S. senate resolutions on Khashoggi, Yemen,” Reuters, December 16, 2018,

[4] President meets U.S. ambassador to Yemen,” Saba New, December 17, 2018,

[5] “Iranian Foreign Ministry meets with European External Action Service Secretary General,” IRNA, December 10, 2018,

[6] ISPI Terrorism, Twitter, December 17, 2018,; and “Terrorism: The 20-year old man arrested in Bari planned an attack on St. Peter’s for Christmas,” Repubblica, December 17, 2018,

[7] “After suggesting a coming showdown with Shabaab, IS claims first attack on the AQ branch in Somalia,” SITE Intelligence Group, December 17, 2018, English translation available by subscription at; and Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims clashes with Shabaab in Somalia,” Long War Journal, December 16, 2018,

[8] Harun Maruf, Twitter, December 17, 2018,; “US says new airstrike in Somalia kills 8 al-Shabaab fighters,” Associated Press, December 16, 2018,; and Hassan Isilow, “US airstrikes kill 62 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia,” Anadolu Agency, December 17, 2018

[9] “Robow’s fate sealed as name struck out of ballot,” Goobjoog, December 16, 2018,; “Somalia: AU says not involved in Robow’s arrest,” Garowe, December 15, 2018,; and “Gulf of Aden Security Review - December 13, 2018,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 13, 2018,

[10] “Somali security forces and AMISOM plan joint military operations in Somalia’s Middle Jubba region,” AMISOM, December 16, 2018,; and Harun Maruf, Twitter, December 16, 2018,

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