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: Ship-to-shore and air strikes target AQAP in Abyan and Ma’rib governorates, southern and central Yemen; CENTCOM commander testifies before Congress on Yemen operations; UN Special Envoy to Yemen to introduce restructured ceasefire proposal; Hadi government Foreign Ministry claims to reach new humanitarian aid plan with UN; al Houthi-Saleh bloc claims to fire ballistic missile at Hadi government forces in al Jawf governorate, northern Yemen

Horn of Africa: Trump administration eases restrictions on U.S. military operations in Somalia; Ethiopian Parliament extends country-wide state of emergency for four months; al Shabaab fires mortars at Villa Somalia in Mogadishu

Yemen Security Brief

Warships fired on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in Abyan governorate, southern Yemen, on March 29 and 30. Local sources claimed that U.S. warships conducted the strikes, which occurred near Shaqra city, southern Abyan, and al Qawz village, Mudiyah district, northern Abyan governorate. Civilians are fleeing al Qawz village due to ongoing strikes in the area. A reported U.S. airstrike targeted an AQAP vehicle north of Ma’rib city, Ma’rib governorate, central Yemen on March 30. Reported U.S. airstrikes targeted AQAP militants in Shabwah and Abyan governorates on March 29.[1]

Head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) General Joseph Votel testified before Congress on U.S. operations in Yemen on March 29. Votel stated that the U.S. prioritizes protecting the freedom of the Bab al Mandab Strait and preventing Yemen from becoming a sanctuary for terrorist groups. Votel cited the al Houthi-Saleh faction’s use of naval mines and explosive boats as a threat to U.S. shipping and security operations in the region but emphasized U.S. forces are equipped to counter such threats.[2] 

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will introduce a new ceasefire proposal on April 5, according to British Ambassador to Yemen Simon Shercliff. Shercliff stated on March 30 that the deal will offer political concessions to al Houthi-Saleh leadership in exchange for military de-escalation. Ould Cheikh Ahmed stated on March 29 that the first step toward a ceasefire will be to convince Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to sit down with al Houthi leaders.[3]

The Hadi government Foreign Ministry released a statement detailing a proposal by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to revise humanitarian aid delivery in Yemen. The UN would divert aid from al Houthi-Saleh-controlled al Hudaydah port to Aden, al Mukalla, and Mokha ports, which are controlled by the Hadi government. The plan would also rely on roads from Saudi Arabia as entry points, according to the unconfirmed plan. The UN rejected a request by the Saudi-led coalition to assume jurisdiction over al Houthi-Saleh-controlled al Hudaydah port on March 20.[4]

Al Houthi-Saleh forces claimed to fire a “Zilzal-1” ballistic missile at Hadi government forces in al Matoun district, al Jawf governorate on March 29. This missile strike is not confirmed. Hadi government forces have used al Matoun as a base to coordinate attacks into Arhab district, northwestern Sana’a governorate, since late January 2017.[5]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a directive that relaxes the rules of engagement for U.S. counterterrorism strikes in Somalia on March 29. The order provides U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) with greater flexibility to conduct offensive airstrikes and raids against al Shabaab targets. President Trump designated parts of Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” establishing war-zone targeting rules for at least 180 days. AFRICOM previously operated under the 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance that required high-level vetting for proposed strikes. The rules permitted airstrikes only in cases of a direct threat to U.S. personnel. Commanders were also required to demonstrate with near-certainty that U.S. operations would not cause civilian casualties. AFRICOM air forces conducted one confirmed “self-defense” strike against al Shabaab militants in 2017.[6] 

The Ethiopian Parliament voted to extend a country-wide state of emergency for another four months on March 30. Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa warned that riots would resume if the government lifted the state of emergency. The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in October 2016 after violent anti-government protests erupted in the Oromia and Amhara regions in central and northern Ethiopia. The government arrested at least 26,000 people in the subsequent crackdown. Ethiopia also withdrew thousands of troops from Somalia between September and November 2016 to quell the protests. Ethiopia withdrew additional troops serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on March 26, 2017.[7]

Al Shabaab militants fired mortar shells at Villa Somalia, the presidential palace in Mogadishu, on March 30. The attack occurred the day after the Somali Federal Parliament voted to approve the new Somali cabinet. Two mortar shells landed inside the presidential complex, while additional shells landed in residential areas in Warta Nabada district. The shelling wounded at least two people. Al Shabaab has conducted mortar bombardments in an effort to disrupt important government events in Mogadishu in recent months. The militants fired mortar shells on the eve of the presidential election, during a transfer-of-power ceremony at Villa Somalia, and hours after the inauguration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.[8]



[1] “US battleship bomb al Qaeda positions in Abyan,” Barakish, March 29, 2017,; “To escape the U.S. bombardment... families displaced from a remote village east of Abyan,” Aden Lang, March 30, 2017,; “Citizens: US aircraft shelled areas in Abyan,” March 30, 2017,; and Demolinari, March 30, 2017,

[2] Joe Gould, “CENTCOM Chief: ‘Vital U.S. interests at stake’ in Yemen,” DefenseNews, March 29, 2017,

[3] Abdul Hadi Habtoor, “British Diplomat: London Concerned about Flow of Iranian Arms into Yemen,” Asharq al Awsat, March 30, 2017,; and “Ould Cheikh calls for pressure on the parties of the Yemen conflict to sit at negotiation table,” Aden Tomorrow, March 30, 2017,

[4] “Foreign Affairs welcomes the intention of the UNOCHA to use alternative ports for the delivery of aid to those affected by the Yemen conflict,” Sabanew, March 30, 2017,; “UN rejects coalition call to supervise Yemen port,” Al Arabiya, March 21, 2017,

[5] “Zilzal-1 fired at mercenary communities in Matoun district, al Jawf governorate,” Sabanews, March 29, 2017,

[6] Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Trump Said to Ease Combat Rules in Somalia Intended to Protect Civilians,” New York Times, March 30, 2017,

[7] Paul Schemm, “Despite outward calm, Ethiopia extends state of emergency,” Washington Post, March 30, 2017,; Merga Yonas, “Political unrest simmering in Ethiopia,” Deutsche Welle, February 10, 2017,; Critical Threats Today, Critical Threats Project, March 28, 2017,

[8] “Mortars hit near Somali Presidential Palace, 2 hurt,” Shabelle News, March 30, 2017,

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