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 representatives negotiate with Saudi-led coalition as Iran raises possibility of advisers in Yemen; Ansar al Sharia denies involvement in Taiz attacks; President Hadi plans changes to military leadership; suspected AQAP gunmen abduct government official in Abyan
Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab denies U.S. casualty estimates from March 7 airstrike; five suspects arrested after attempted airplane bombing at Beledweyne Airport in Hiiraan, Somalia; Somali defense minister mediates political disputes in Jubbaland
Yemen Security Brief
- A delegation of al Houthi representatives arrived in Saudi Arabia on March 7 for peace negotiations. Former president and al Houthi ally Ali Abdullah Saleh’s role in the talks, if any, remains unclear, though sources report that Saleh held meetings with a number of his associates on March 8. The talks are the first between the Saudi-led coalition and the al Houthis since UN-brokered talks in Geneva in December 2015, and the first to be held on Saudi soil since the beginning of the coalition campaign. Both sides appear to be undertaking previously agreed upon confidence-building measures to varying degrees, indicating that the talks are serious. The al Houthis released a Saudi prisoner of war at the Saudi-Yemeni border, and reports indicate al Houthi forces have launched fewer cross-border attacks over the past week. Locals in Sana’a observed a pause in the coalition’s air campaign on the capital, though coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al Asiri denied reports of an unannounced ceasefire on March 6. A senior Iranian military official, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, said on March 8 that Iran could send military advisers to assist the al Houthis, likely in response to the group’s talks with Saudi Arabia.
- Ansar al Sharia, the insurgent arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), issued a formal denial on March 6 of any involvement in the theft of a car and subsequent blackmail of a local resident in Taiz city. The statement follows the group’s denial of involvement in the March 4 attack on a nursing home in Aden and last month’s assassination of a prominent cleric near Aden. The denials come amid speculation of a media war between AQAP and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) in Yemen.
- Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi plans to make changes to the leadership of the Yemeni Armed Forces, according to a report by Saudi newspaper Okaz on March 7. In particular, Hadi pointed to the Fourth and Fifth Military Districts, based in Aden and al Hudaydah respectively, which he claimed are failing in their missions. The Hadi government is currently struggling to establish security in Aden, where officials are frequently targeted by Salafi-jihadi and other militant groups, and AQAP has expanded in neighboring Abyan governorate. Al Houthi-Saleh forces control al Hudaydah. President Hadi recently promoted Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, a prominent military and political figure, to the position of Deputy to the Supreme Commander of the Yemeni Armed Forces in an effort to bolster support for the Hadi government in northern Yemen.
- Suspected AQAP gunmen abducted a government official named Haidara Daha at al Musaymir junction, west of Zinjibar on March 8. Daha is a tribal leader, and unconfirmed reports say that he is the acting governor of Abyan governorate. AQAP is consolidating control in Abyan governorate and has targeted local leaders and officials opposed to its expansion.
Horn of Africa Security Brief
- Al Shabaab denied the Pentagon’s statement that U.S. airstrikes killed 150 al Shabaab fighters at a training camp in central Somalia’s Hiiraan region on March 6. The group’s military spokesperson did confirm that the strikes, reportedly carried out by manned and unmanned aircraft, occurred at the Raso training camp, located approximately 160 kilometers from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The spokesperson also claimed that al Shabaab would never mass so many fighters in one location for security reasons. U.S. military officials said that the strikes were planned with the assistance of Somali intelligence assets and were carried out to defend U.S. Special Operations Forces and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops from an impending al Shabaab attack.
- Somali police detained five men suspected of involvement in a March 7 attempted airplane bombing at Beledweyne Airport in Somalia’s Hiiraan region. Somali security officials said that the suspects are being held at the AMISOM base in El Jalle. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the plot, which was uncovered after an explosive device hidden in a laptop detonated prematurely and wounded at least four people. AMISOM troops subsequently discovered and defused two other devices.
- Somali Defense Minister General Abdulkadir Sheikh Ali Dini held a meeting in Kismayo, Lower Jubba region, Somalia on March 8 with the president of the Interim Jubbaland Administration (IJA), Ahmed Madobe, and several opposition politicians from the Gedo region. General Dini stated that he hoped to mediate the dispute between Madobe’s regional government and the disaffected Gedo politicians so that effective governance of Jubbaland can continue. This meeting coincided with the IJA’s announcement of new military operations against al Shabaab in the Jubba and Gedo regions.