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: AQAP withdraws from Ahwar, Abyan following tribal mediation; President Hadi appoints General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar as Deputy to the Supreme Commander of the Yemeni Armed Forces; reported U.S. airstrike kills four suspected AQAP militants in Shabwah governorate; Yemen’s central bank cuts exchange rate subsidies for staple imports

Horn of Africa:  Al Shabaab denies death of explosives expert; al Shabaab ambushes AMISOM convoy near Lego, Bay region, Somalia; civilians in Mudug region attack al Shabaab militants for attempted taxation; Ahlu Sunna wa al Jama'a blocks former Somali Ambassador to Ethiopia from visiting Dhusamareb, Galgudud region; pro-al Shabaab elder surrenders to SNA in Adado, Galgudud region

Yemen Security Brief

  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants withdrew from Ahwar city, Abyan governorate on February 20, after a failed attempt to consolidate control. AQAP militants attacked a popular resistance checkpoint in the area, killing three, before erecting their own checkpoints and flying al Qaeda’s black flag from government buildings. Militiamen from the Bakazim tribe massed outside Ahwar in response. AQAP agreed to withdraw under the terms of a tribal mediation allowing the group free passage through the city. Reports previously indicated that AQAP had seized Ahwar around the beginning of February. Military sources confirmed that the group held parts of the city for several weeks. Ahwar lies along the main east-west road in southern Yemen, which connects AQAP’s strongholds of Zinjibar in the west and al Mukalla in the east.[1]
  • Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi appointed General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar Deputy to the Supreme Commander of the Yemeni Armed Forces on February 22. General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar defected from former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime in March 2011, the first major figure to do so, and commanded the First Armored Division until Hadi restructured the military in 2012. He continues to command forces loyal to him, most recently in Hajjah governorate.[2]  
  • A reported U.S. airstrike killed four suspected AQAP militants near al Aqlah in Shabwah governorate on February 20. The strike targeted a car believed to belong to AQAP. Reported U.S. airstrikes have hit several suspected AQAP targets throughout southern and central Yemen this year, including one that killed senior commander Jalal al Bal’idi al Marqishi on February 3. The Saudi-led coalition has recently launched its own airstrikes on AQAP in Abyan and Lahij governorates, according to reports.[3]
  • Yemen’s central bank in Sana’a ended its de facto subsidy of rice, sugar, and milk imports on February 19. The central bank previously provided credit for the import of rice, sugar, milk, wheat, and medicine at a fixed rate of 215 Yemeni riyals to the dollar, but will now only cover wheat and medicine. Bankers reportedly instructed importers to purchase currency on the black market, where the rate is currently 256 rials to the dollar.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

  • Al Shabaab denied the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) claim to kill a senior al Shabaab bombmaker.  The KDF said that it killed Maalim Sharif, an explosives expert, in an air strike in Somalia’s Gedo region last week.[5] 
  • Suspected al Shabaab militants ambushed an Ethiopian African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) convoy near Lego, Bay region, Somalia on February 22, destroying at least one vehicle.  Residents of the town claim that an improvised explosive device targeted one of the vehicles following which the militants initiated an ambush of the convoy.  No casualties were reported.[6] 
  • Civilians in the Mudug region of Somalia attacked al Shabaab militants who attempted to collect zakat tax on their cattle herds on February 22.  The militants attempted to tax farmers who recently survived a drought in the area. The resultant clashes, which occurred in the villages of Aad and el Abdi, killed approximately 20 militants and one civilian and wounded 33 people in total.[7]
  • The moderate Islamist group Ahlu Sunna wa al Jama'a (ASWJ) intends to obstruct former Somali Ambassador to Ethiopia Ahmed Abdisalam’s attempt to visit the Galgudud region.  ASWJ sent letters to the Ambassador’s Mogadishu office and reportedly occupied the air strips at Dhusamareb and Guriel to prevent Abdisalam’s place from landing.  The Ambassador’s office stated that the trip to Dhusanmareeb was humanitarian, not political. ASWJ opposes the Somali Federal Government’s intervention in its areas of control.[8] 
  • A prominent pro-al Shabaab village elder from Adado, Galgudud region turned himself in to Somali Nation Army (SNA) troops on February 22.  The extent of the elder’s association with al Shabaab is unknown, but it is likely that he was part of a group that assisted the militant group via clan ties.[9] 
[1] “Al Qaeda militants seize southern Yemen town, kill militia leader: residents,” Reuters, February 20, 2016,
“Qaeda kills three in sweep of Yemen’s south,” Agence France Presse, February 20, 2016,
“Al-Qaeda militants withdraw from Ahwar,” Yemen News Network, February 20, 2016,
“Al Qaeda withdraws from Ahwar after the advance of tribal fighters and the conclusion of an agreement,” Aden al Ghadd, February 20, 2016,
[2] “Issuance of presidential order appointing Brigadier General Ali Mohsen Deputy to the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces,” Saba News, February 22, 2016,
[3] “American plane destroys al Qaeda car in Shabwah and kills those in it,” Barakish, February 20, 2016,
[4] “Yemen central bank stops guarantees for rice, sugar imports – sources,” Reuters, February 19, 2016,
[5] “Somalia: Al-Shabaab denies Kenya has killed its bomb expert,” Shabelle News, February 21, 2016,
[6]  “Ethiopian troops convoy targeted in IED blast in Somalia,” Shabelle News, February 22, 2016,
[7] “Minister: 22 killed as residents, Al shabaab clash over Zakah,” Shabelle News, February 22, 2016,
[8] Mohammed Omar Hussein, “Ahlusuunah bans former Somali ambassador to Ethiopia reach Dhusamareeb town, Radio Dalsan, February 21, 2016,
[9] “Pro al Shabaab elder defects to Somali government,” Goobjoog News, February 22, 2016,  
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