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: Saudi Arabia and al Houthi movement hold secret negotiations; UN Security Council calls on all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief in all governorates; U.S. Ambassador to Yemen reportedly supports training special forces in al Mahrah governorate; Saudi Arabia deposits $2 billion into Yemen’s Aden-based Central Bank

Horn of Africa: UAE pledges to train Somaliland security forces in Berbera; SNA forces ambush al Shabaab militants in Kismayo, Lower Jubba region

Yemen Security Brief

Saudi Arabia and the al Houthi movement are holding secret negotiations in Oman, according to diplomats and Yemeni political sources who spoke to Reuters on March 15. Al Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam was reportedly in direct communication with Saudi officials to discuss a comprehensive resolution. Al Houthi official Ali al Qahum denied that Salam spoke in secret with Saudi Arabia on March 15, however. Salam traveled to Muscat, Oman at the end of January. Representatives from the internationally recognized Yemeni government did not participate in the alleged negotiations. Reuters reported that talks have been ongoing for two months and that two unidentified Hadi government officials who were unaware of the negotiation efforts criticized the Saudi-led coalition for barring Riyadh-based Hadi government officials from returning to Yemen. Hadi government Information Minister Mu’ammar al Irayani denied that Hadi government officials spoke to Reuters, however.  Al Houthi Supreme Political Council President Saleh al Samad said that Saudi Arabia is not ready for peace and a resolution is outside of Saudi Arabia’s control.[1] 

The UN Security Council (UNSC) called on all parties to the Yemen conflict to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief in all governorates on March 15. The UNSC highlighted the importance of fully operational ports in al Houthi-held territory for aid delivery. The 15 UNSC member states also raised concerns about the state of Yemen’s economy, appealed for greater efforts at distinguishing between civilian and combatant targets, condemned al Houthi ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, and called on all member states to fully implement UNSC arms embargo resolutions. The UNSC estimated that 22.2 million people require humanitarian relief, up 3.4 million from last year.[2]

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller reportedly supported the idea of training special al Mahri forces in a meeting with al Mahrah Governor Rajeh Bakrit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 13. Tueller also discuss security and anti-smuggling efforts in al Mahrah governorate, eastern Yemen. Saudi Arabia began sending military resources to al Mahrah in November 2017 to counter smuggling of Iranian missile parts to the al Houthi movement. A local tribal council allowed Saudi forces to enter the governorate under the condition that the Saudi-led coalition  coordinates with existing Mahri authorities and does not empower select tribes.[3]

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al Jadan and the governor of Yemen’s Aden-based Central Bank Mohammed Mansour Ali Zemam signed an agreement for the deposit of $2 billion in Yemen’s Aden-based Central Bank on March 15.  Saudi Arabia pledged the financial deposit on January 16 in an attempt to strengthen the weakening Yemeni riyal, which reached a new low of more than 500 to the U.S. dollar on March 1.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) pledged to train Somaliland security forces at a UAE-funded military base in Berbera, Somaliland, northwestern Somalia. Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi said that the base will help deter terrorist groups and support economic development. Somaliland allowed the UAE to build the base in 2017. UAE-based port operator DP World, Somaliland, and Ethiopia agreed to terms on the ownership of the port of Berbera on March 1. The Somali Federal Government (SFG) rejected the deal on March 2, citing a violation of Somalia’s sovereignty. The SFG, however, has limited enforcement capability due to Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status. The Somali Parliament banned DP World from operating in Somalia in an attempt to enforce the SFG’s rejection of the agreement on March 15. Somaliland and DP World have dismissed the SFG’s stance on the deal, however. Somaliland President Abdi said the SFG’s actions amounted to a “declaration of war” on March 8. The UAE has increased investment in Somalia as part of a growing regional competition for military and economic influence in the Gulf of Aden region. The Somaliland government supported the UAE’s boycott of Qatar in July 2017. The SFG, which relies on support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar and Turkey, remained neutral.[5] 

Somali National Army (SNA) forces killed seven al Shabaab militants in an ambush in Kismayo, Lower Jubba region, southern Somalia on March 15. Militants injured one SNA soldier in the engagement. SNA forces attacked al Shabaab militants in Wirkoy near Kismayo on March 13. Al Shabaab also claimed to kill 12 SNA troops in an attack in Bulo Gadud near Kismayo on March 14. Regional security officials from south-central Somalia and Kenya have vowed to intensify operations against al Shabaab.[6]

[1] “Yemen's Houthis and Saudi Arabia in secret talks to end war: sources,” Reuters, March 15, 2018,; “The Yemeni government deplores the report published by Reuters about negotiations with the Houthi militias in Saudi Arabia,” Saba News, March 16, 2018,; and “A leader in Ansarullah denies the existence of meetings between the movement and Saudi officials in Muscat,” Al Mayadeen, March 15, 2018,  
[2] “Amid Deteriorating Conditions in Yemen, Security Council Presidential Statement Calls for Humanitarian Access, Strict Adherence to Embargo,” UN, March 15, 2018,
[3] “Governor of al Mahrah discusses with the US Ambassador the conditions of the province and coordinate efforts in combating smuggling and enhancing security,” Al Manara, March 13, 2018,
[4] “Saudi Arabia Deposits $2 billion in Yemen Central Bank,” Saudi Press Agency, March 16, 2018,; and “Saudi Arabia to deposit $2 billion in Yemen Central Bank SPA,” Reuters, March 15, 2018,
[5] “UAE to train Somaliland forces under military base deal - Somaliland president,” Reuters, March 15, 2018,; “Somalia bans Dubai ports operator DP World, says contract with Somaliland null,” Reuters, March 13, 2018,; and “The New Scramble for Africa,” Critical Threats Project, February 16, 2018,
[6] “Somali forces kill 7 Al-Shabaab militants in south Somalia,” Xinhua, March 15, 2018,; “Shabaab Claims Killing Puntland Mine Action Dept. Official, Repulsing Attack Involving U.S., AMISOM, and Somali Forces,” SITE Intelligence Group, March 15, 2018, available by subscription at; and “Kenyan police vow to enhance fight against terrorism,” Xinhua, March 15, 2018,

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