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: al Houthi-Saleh supporters protest in Sana’a on second anniversary of Saudi-led intervention in Yemen; al Houthi-Saleh criminal court sentences President Hadi to death; Pentagon seeks to lift restrictions on military support to Saudi-led coalition; AQAP militants detonate SVBIED targeting Emirati-backed forces in Lahij governorate, southern Yemen; AQAP and ISIS Wilayat al Bayda attack al Houthi-Saleh forces in central Yemen; Saudi-led coalition removes naval mines near Hajjah governorate, northwestern Yemen; Saudi-led coalition air defense systems intercept al Houthi-Saleh ballistic missile in Taiz governorate, central Yemen

Horn of Africa: KDF forces raid al Shabaab bases in Lower Jubba region in southern Somalia; Ethiopian AMISOM troops withdraw from El Bur and Dhusamareb towns in Galgudud region, central Somalia; White House considering Pentagon request for greater flexibility in Somalia

Yemen Security Brief

Thousands of al Houthi-Saleh supporters protested in Sana’a on the second anniversary of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen on March 26. Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Supreme Political Council Prime Minister Abdulaziz Saleh bin Habtur attended the event. Al Houthi movement leader Abdul Malik al Houthi released a statement calling on young people to join al Houthi-Saleh forces. Al Houthi also called for the use of more advanced missile capabilities against Saudi-led coalition targets. Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi stated on March 26 that the Saudi-led intervention “saved the region from Persian schemes.” The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the intervention for exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.[1] 

A criminal court in Sana’a sentenced President Hadi to death for “high treason” in absentia on March 25. The court also convicted Yemeni Ambassador to the U.S. Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak and Yemeni Ambassador to the UK Yassin Saeed Noman Ahmed in absentia during the same proceedings. President Hadi’s adviser Yassin Makawi mocked the ruling and stated that former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and al Houthi movement leader Abdul Malik al Houthi will both receive fair trials after their surrender. The ruling may further complicate future ceasefire negotiations.[2]

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis asked U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to lift the Obama administration’s restriction on U.S. military support to the Saudi-led coalition. The request did not include approval for U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) to assist Emirati SOF on Yemen’s western coast. The UAE requested U.S. SOF support for an ongoing campaign that aims to seize key Red Sea ports from the al Houthi-Saleh faction. The Trump administration reportedly increased the sharing of intelligence on al Houthi-Saleh missile launch sites with the Saudi-led coalition and is expected to send additional patrol ships near the Yemeni coast. Emirati Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al Otaiba and Saudi-led coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Asiri both expressed satisfaction with the Trump administration’s plan to increase support for their operations in Yemen.[3]

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants conducted a complex suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack at a government building in al Hawta city, Lahij governorate, southern Yemen, on March 27. The suicide bomber detonated the SVBIED near the building’s entrance before gunmen stormed the building. The attackers wore Yemeni military uniforms. AQAP militants killed at least five Emirati-backed al Hizam troops. AQAP conducted a similar complex attack targeting an al Hizam headquarters in Abyan governorate on February 24.[4]

AQAP militants conducted multiple operations targeting al Houthi-Saleh forces in central Yemen between March 24 and 25. AQAP militants attacked al Houthi-Saleh forces with small arms fire in al Zuwab village, western al Bayda governorate, on March 24. AQAP militants assassinated an al Houthi-Saleh commander in Damt area, along the border between Ibb and al Dhaleh governorates, on March 25. The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) Wilayat al Bayda also claimed to clash with al Houthi-Saleh forces in western al Bayda governorate on March 25.[5]

The Saudi-led coalition claimed to extract over 30 naval mines near the coast of Midi district in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah governorate on March 25 and 26. A Yemeni Fifth Military Region commander claimed that Iran provided the Chinese-made mines.[6]

Al Houthi-Saleh forces fired a ballistic missile at Hadi government forces in Mokha city on March 25. Saudi-led coalition air defense systems intercepted the missile.[7]

Horn of Africa Security Brief  

The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) raided multiple al Shabaab bases in Badhadhe district in Lower Jubba region, southern Somalia, on March 27. KDF helicopters and artillery fire supported ground troops during the raids. KDF forces killed 31 al Shabaab militants, destroyed two vehicles, and captured assault rifles, communications equipment, and uniforms. Al Shabaab denied the casualty reports. Badhadhe district is located along the Kenyan border in the southernmost area in Somalia. KDF forces killed at least 57 al Shabaab militants in a similar assault on al Shabaab positions near Afmadow town in Lower Jubba region on March 2.[8]

Ethiopian troops operating under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) withdrew from El Bur and Dhusamareb towns in Galgudud region, central Somalia, on March 26. El Bur District Commissioner Abdi Hassan Mohamed said that the withdrawal was unexpected and will allow al Shabaab to seize the town. Twenty-five Somali soldiers remain in El Bur, according to Mohamed. It is not clear why Ethiopian AMISOM troops withdrew from the towns. Ethiopia withdrew at least 3,000 AMISOM troops from Bakool and Hiraan regions in south-central Somalia between September and November 2016 in response to domestic unrest. Al Shabaab seized at least six towns in the wake of Ethiopian withdrawal in 2016.[9]

The commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, stated that the White House is considering a request to allow AFRICOM greater flexibility to target al Shabaab in Somalia on March 24. General Waldhauser said that the Pentagon seeks to relax the rules of engagement but emphasized that U.S. forces will continue to avoid civilian casualties. He acknowledged that U.S. forces have adopted procedures to protect humanitarian organizations working to prevent famine in Somalia. The U.S. adopted a limited military footprint in Somalia under the Obama administration. The U.S. deploys 50 Special Operations Forces on the ground and has conducted one confirmed airstrike against al Shabaab in 2017. The Pentagon submitted recommendations to White House on February 26, 2017.[10]

[1] “Thousands of Yemenis rally in Sanaa on war's second anniversary,” Reuters, March 26, 2017,; “Seventy million citizens witness rally on the second anniversary of Saudi aggression,” Sabanews, March 26, 2017,; “Text of the Leader of the Revolution’s speech on the anniversary of two years of steadfastness in the face of Saudi aggression,” Sabanews, March 26, 2017,; “President of the Republic: King Salman’s decision saved Yemen and the region from the clutches of Persian schemes,” Sabanew, March 26, 2017,; and “Foreign Ministry statement in the second year of the invasion of foreign forces in Yemen,” Iranian Students’ News Agency, March 26, 2017, http://www(.)isna(.)ir/news/96010601573/%D8%A8%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C%D9%87-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%B2-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D9%87-%DB%8C%D9%85%D9%86.
[2] “Pro-Houthi court sentences Yemen president to death for treason,” Reuters, March 25, 2017,; and “President Hadi adviser vows to give fair trial and punishment to coup,” Aden Tomorrow, March 26, 2017,
[3] Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, “Trump administration weighs deeper involvement in Yemen war,” The Washington Post, March 26, 2017,; and Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary, “Pentagon Weighs More Support for Saudi-led War in Yemen,” Foreign Policy, March 26, 2017,
[4] “A terrorist attack targeting the government compound in Lahj province and clashes between police and the attackers,” al Masdar, March 27, 2017,; “Suicide bomber targets the government compound in the Lahij and the fall of the "4" dead and "6" wounded in the initial toll of the attack,” Aden Lang March 27, 2017,; and Demolinari, Twitter, March 27, 2017,
[5] AQAP claims its militants attacked al Houthi-Saleh forces in al Bayda and Ibb governorate, Telegram, March 24-25, 2017; and “# Yemen: Islamic State soldiers clash and repel al Houthi campaign in the "Wadi Amer" in Qayda-al Bayda,” Dawaal Haq, March 24, 2017.
[6] “Engineering teams extracted dozens of naval mines off the coast of Midi,” Aden Tomorrow, March 26, 2017,; and “30 sea mines disarmed in preparation to liberate al Hudaydah,” Okaz, March 26, 2017,
[7] “Arab coalition defenses intercept ballistic missiles in the sky over Mokha,” Aden Tomorrow, March 25, 2017,
[8] “Kenyan forces kill 31 al Shabaab militants in Somalia,” Reuters, March 27, 2017,; and Live From Somalia, Al Shabaab denies 31 of its fighters were killed, Twitter, March 27, 2017,
[9] “Ethiopian troop withdrawal from El Bur shocks DC,” Shabelle News, March 27, 2017,; Live From Somalia, Ethiopian troops serving under AMISOM have withdrawn from El Bur and Dusamareb, Twitter, March 26, 2017,; Colin Lahiff, “Ethiopian AMISOM Withdrawals,” Critical Threats Project, November 4, 2016,
[10] General Thomas D. Waldhauser, “Department of Defense Press Briefing on U.S. Africa Command,” U.S. Department of Defense, March 24, 2017,; and Richard Sisk, “US General Seeks Flexible Rules of Engagement for Somalia,”, March 24, 2017,
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