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: U.S. forces continue airstrikes targeting AQAP in Yemen; U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issues warning for merchant ships in the Bab al Mandab; AQAP militants attack Emirati-backed forces in Hadramawt and Abyan governorates; al Houthi-Saleh forces shell northern Abyan governorate; AQAP emir eulogizes “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman

Horn of Africa: al Shabaab conducts multiple IED ambushes targeting AMISOM convoys in southern Somalia; AMISOM forces fire mortar shells into civilian areas; 110 civilians die from hunger and disease within 48 hours in Bay region, southern Somalia

Yemen Security Brief

U.S. airstrikes targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in Yemen for five consecutive days. A U.S. defense intelligence official reported that the recent airstrikes had been planned and were not related to intelligence recovered during the U.S. Special Operation Forces (SOF) January 29 raid on an AQAP headquarters in central Yemen. U.S. airstrikes reportedly targeted AQAP in Noufan village, al Bayda governorate; al Sa’id district, Shabwah governorate; and Ahwar, Abyan governorate between March 4 and 6. One of the strikes in Abyan killed Mossad al Adani, AQAP’s emir of Abyan governorate and an explosives expert, according to U.S. defense officials. The Trump administration designated some regions of Yemen as “areas of active hostility” in order to enable U.S. forces to conduct strikes with less oversight from the White House.[1] 

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence reportedly issued a warning to merchant ships traveling between Yemen’s Bab al Mandab Strait and the western port of Mokha, Taiz governorate, to be mindful of aquatic mines placed by al Houthi-Saleh forces. The March 1 statement also acknowledged that the U.S. Navy is working to find and disarm mines near the important strait. Up to 30 percent of global oil trade passes through the Bab al Mandab.[2]

AQAP militants attacked Emirati-backed security forces in eastern and southern Yemen. Militants attacked Hadhrami Elite Forces in Daw’an in Hadramawt governorate on March 3. Hadhrami Elite Forces responded by raiding an AQAP weapons cache in Ghayl wa Bazir district, southwest of Daw’an, on March 6. AQAP militants attacked al Hizam security forces at a checkpoint in al Arqub, north of Shaqra city, in Abyan governorate.[3]

Al Houthi-Saleh forces launched an artillery strike on Lawder village in northern Abyan governorate in southern Yemen on March 4. The attack disabled electricity to the region. Al Houthi-Saleh forces attempted to seize territory in Lawder village on February 6, but were pushed back by popular resistance forces. Emirati-backed al Hizam forces withdrew from Lawder district in early February, citing increased AQAP activity. The recent uptick in al Houthi-Saleh bloc activity in Lawder district indicates a local power vacuum.[4]

AQAP’s emir, Qasim al Raymi, released an eleven-minute speech eulogizing the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman on March 6. Abdul Rahman died on February 19 of natural causes in a North Carolina prison where he had been sentenced for his role as a key planner of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Al Raymi used the speech to criticize the United States.[5]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Al Shabaab militants targeted African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces in multiple ambushes in southern Somalia on March 4 and 5. Al Shabaab militants conducted an improvised explosive device (IED) ambush targeting an AMISOM convoy between Baidoa and Burhakaba in Bay region on March 4. The militants opened fire on the convoy, which was carrying Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), after detonating the IED.  Al Shabaab militants also conducted an IED ambush targeting an AMISOM convoy near Lanta Buro village in Lower Shabelle region on March 5. The militants opened fire on the convoy carrying Burundian soldiers  after detonating the IED along the road between Marka and Afgoi, in an area located 50 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. Al Shabaab has expanded operations against AMISOM forces with IED ambushes and raids in strategic towns in southern Somalia in recent months.[6] 

AMISOM forces fired mortar shells into al Shabaab-controlled villages near Mahaday town in Middle Shabelle region, southern Somalia, on March 5. The bombardment killed two civilians and injured several others. AMISOM officials did not comment on the deaths. A UN Security Council report released in January 2017 confirmed rising civilian fatalities due to AMISOM operations in Somalia. Al Shabaab frequently ambushes AMISOM forces traveling along a key road between Mogadishu and Mahaday, located 100 kilometers north of the capital.[7]

The Somali Federal Government announced that drought and famine conditions killed more than 110 people in Bay region in southern Somalia between March 2 and 3. Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire made the announcement during a meeting with the National Drought Committee on March 4. Cholera, a disease spread from drinking contaminated water, caused 65 of those deaths. The announcement is the first official death-toll statement from famine conditions since President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared a national disaster on March 1. Khaire said that thousands of people have fled to Mogadishu in search of food aid in recent days. The UN estimates that severe drought is affecting more than 6.2 million people in a country of 10.8 million people.[8]

[1]“Suspected U.S. drones hit al Qaeda targets in Yemen: residents,” Reuters, March 6, 2017,; Mohammed Mukhashaf, “At least two killed in new drone strikes on al Qaeda in Yemen: residents,” Reuters, March 4, 2017,; “Richard Sisk, “Yemen Airstrikes Not Guided By Intel from SEAL Raid: Senior Official,” Military, March 3, 2017,; Courtney Kube, “Yemen Strike Kills Al Qaeda Bombmaker, Officials Say,” NBC News, March 3, 2017,; and “Urgent: US aircraft launched strikes on al Qaida positions in Shabwah,” Aden Lang, Mach 5, 2017,
[2]Commander Jeremy Vaughan and Simon Henderson, “Bab al Mandab shipping chokepoint under threat,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 1, 2017,; “US warns of underwater mines planted by Houthis in Bab al Mandeb,” al Arabiya, March 6, 2017,; “U.S. Defense Intelligence warns ships about risk of mines planted by the Houthis near the port of Mokha,” al Masdar, March 5, 2017,; and Thomas C. Mountain, “Choke point Bab al Mandeb; Understanding the Strategically Critical Horn of Africa,” Foreign Policy Journal, November 19, 2011,
[3] AQAP claims attack on Hadhrami Elite forces in Daw’an, Hadramawt, Telegram, March 4, 2017; “The killing of four members of the guard at a security checkpoint in Daw’an after armed attack,” Aden Lang, March 3, 2017,; “Military and security forces stumbled on a store of weapons to al-Qaeda in Hadramawt,” al Masdar, March 6, 2017,; Mohammed Mukhashaf, “Suspected al Qaeda militants kill six Yemeni troops, civilian: official,” Reuters, March 5, 2017,; and “Dead and wounded in an armed attack on a security post in the mountains of Abyan al ‘Arqoub,” Aden Lang, March 5, 2017,
[4] “Indiscriminate bombing by the rebels near Abyan housing,” Aden Lange, March 4, 2017,
[5] AQAP distributes Qasim al Raymi speech, Telegram, March 6, 2017.
[6] “Al Shabaab claims killing AMISOM soldiers in roadside bomb attack,” Garowe Online, March 4, 2017,; and “Military convoy targeted in roadside bomb attack in Lower Shabelle,” Garowe Online March 5, 2017,
[7] “Somali security forces, AMISOM killed 92 civilians in last four months of 2016,” Daily Nation, January 17, 2017,; and “Civilians reported killed in AMISOM fire near Mahaday,” Shabelle News, March 5, 2017,
[8] Amanda Erickson, “In Somalia, a drought killed 110 people in just 48 hours,” Washington Post, March 4, 2017,; Abdi Sheikh, “Somalia says 110 dead in last 48 hours due to drought,” Reuters, March 4, 2017,; “Cholera outbreak kills at least 65 in Somalia,” Mareeg, March 4, 2017,; and Somalia: CIA World Factbook, January 12, 2017,
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