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: Transitional Political Council for the South demonstrations draw tens of thousands to Aden; UN Special Envoy to Yemen advocates for ceasefire deal before start of Ramadan; Trump concludes visit to Saudi Arabia; al Houthi-Saleh forces fire ballistic missile toward Riyadh and claim to down a Saudi jet over northern Sa’ada governorate; U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctions AQAP supporters and facilitators; AQAP-backed popular resistance forces advance in eastern Taiz governorate

Horn of Africa: Somali security forces arrest dozens of al Shabaab militants in Mogadishu; Kenya increases police and military presence along Kenyan-Somali border; SNA forces repel al Shabaab attack in Hiraan region in south-central Somalia

Yemen Security Brief

Tens of thousands of supporters of the recently announced “Transitional Political Council for the South” traveled to Tahrir Square in Aden’s Khormaksar district on May 21 to mark the anniversary of the 1994 establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yemen. The rally called for an independent and federal South Yemen state. Aden Security Director Shalal Ali Shaye'a vowed to confront Iranian involvement in Yemen and fight terrorism. Former governor of Aden and Transitional Political Council President Aydarus al Zubaidi thanked the Saudi-led coalition for its assistance in a televised speech from the UAE. The May 21 southern protests evoked a variety of responses by major actors in Yemen. Internationally recognized Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi declared that he would not allow Aden to be divided. Hadi’s governor of Aden released a statement attempting to embrace the protests but maintaining loyalty to Hadi. The British and German ambassadors to Yemen both expressed their countries’ support for a more autonomous southern Yemen.[1] 

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed traveled to Sana’a to propose ceasefire terms to al Houthi-Saleh leadership on May 22. Ould Cheikh Ahmed seeks to establish a humanitarian ceasefire by the start of Ramadan on May 26, opening the door to peace negotiations in Kuwait or Geneva in June. Al Houthi-Saleh Supreme Political Council President Saleh Ali al Samad accused Ould Cheikh Ahmed of lacking neutrality. Ansar Allah spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam announced that al Houthi-Saleh negotiators would not meet with the UN Envoy, accusing the UN of simply helping the Saudi-led coalition to stall and make more military gains. Anti-al Houthi media reported that Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s convoy came under fire by al Houthi-Saleh forces near Sana’a International Airport on May 22.[2]

U.S. President Donald Trump concluded his trip to Saudi Arabia on May 21. The visit included an arms sale to Saudi Arabia worth nearly $110 billion in foreign military sales contracts. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson connected the sales to countering Iranian influence in the region and called on Iranian President Rouhani to end his government’s “destabilizing activities” during a May 21 press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir. Trump also met with President Hadi during the Arab Islamic-American Summit on May 21. Al Houthi-Saleh supporters in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a held a massive rally to protest Trump’s visit under the slogan “No to American terrorism in Yemen” on May 20.[3]

Al Houthi-Saleh forces launched a “Borkan-2” ballistic missile toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh on May 19, the day before President Trump’s visit. Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted the missile over al Rayn, Riyadh region, causing it to crash in an uninhabited area. Al Houthi-Saleh forces claimed to launch two other ballistic missiles toward Riyadh on February 6 and March 18 which the Saudi government did not acknowledge. The May 19 attack marks the farthest confirmed distance an al Houthi-Saleh missile has traveled from Yemen since Saudi Arabia entered hostilities in 2015. Al Houthi-Saleh forces also released a video purporting to show them downing a Saudi F-15 fighter jet over Sa’ada governorate with a surface-to-air missile on May 21. The video appears to depict the pilot ejecting from the plane over Saudi airspace. The promotion of both high-profile attacks indicate a desire by al Houthi-Saleh forces to coerce Saudi Arabia into less favorable ceasefire terms as the Kingdom ramps up its military spending. [4]

The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “leaders and facilitators” on May 19. The Treasury sanctioned Hashim Muhsin Aydarus al Hamid for purchasing explosives and weapons for AQAP militants. The Treasury also sanctioned senior AQAP official Khalid Ali Mabkhut al Arada for providing weapons, fighters, and logistical support for AQAP. Al Arada is the brother of the President Hadi’s governor of Ma’rib governorate. Al Arada’s forces cooperate with Hadi government forces in the anti-al Houthi fight in Ma’rib and Sana’a governorates. Al Arada has met with Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen al Ahmar on several occasions and is reported to be a close associate of Ali Mohsen al Ahmar. A reported U.S. counterterrorism airstrike killed al Arada’s nephew, the son of the Ma’rib governor, on March 30.[5]

Hadi government-allied popular resistance forces reinvigorated an offensive against al Houthi-Saleh forces in eastern Taiz city on May 22. The offensive aims to seize the presidential palace and surrounding area from al Houthi-Saleh forces. The 22nd Mechanized Brigade leads the offensive. The Hadi government functionally integrated the AQAP-linked Abu Abbas brigade into its forces as the 22nd Mechanized Brigade. AQAP provides governance in eastern Taiz city where the Abu Abbas brigade operates.[6]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Somali security forces arrested dozens of al Shabaab militants during a sweep operation in Mogadishu on May 22. Somali National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops raided homes and businesses owned by suspected militants in Hodan and Wadajir districts. Al Shabaab militants were using the locations to plan attacks for the upcoming month of Ramadan. Al Shabaab has intensified a campaign of mass-casualty attacks and assassinations in the capital since the election of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo in February 2017. Al Shabaab militants detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting a SNA convoy along the road between Afgoi and Mogadishu on May 21. The attack killed three SNA soldiers. Al Shabaab also attempted two vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks in the capital last week.[7]  

Kenya is increasing its police and military presence alongside the Somali-Kenyan border. The Kenyan government announced the deployment of additional Kenyan troops along the border in order to deter al Shabaab attacks. Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto also announced plans to recruit 150 police reservists while attending a Jubilee party political rally in Mandera town in Mandera County, northeastern Kenya. The deployments seek to enhance security as the Kenyan government removes parts of its curfew in Mandera county for Ramadan, which begins on May 26. Al Shabaab launched several attacks on Mandera county last week, including a raid on Omar Jillo town that killed a local police chief.[8]

SNA troops repelled an al Shabaab attack near Mahas town in Hiraan region in southern Somalia, on May 21. The militants attempted to raid a SNA base on the outskirts of Mahas but encountered resistance from SNA forces. The gunfight killed at least five militants and soldiers. Mahas is located approximately 40 miles southwest of Elbur town in Galgudud region. Al Shabaab seized Elbur after Ethiopian AMISOM troops withdrew on April 3.[9]

[1] “Yemen: Thousands protest for southern secession,” Middle East Eye, May 21, 2017,; “What Aden Director of Security said to supporters of the Southern Transitional Council on the 23rd anniversary of the disengagement,” Aden Lange, May 21, 2017,; “Major General Aydarus al Zubaidi televised speech on May 21,” Aden Tomorrow, May 21, 2017,; “Hadi: We will not allow for the breakup of the state,” Aden Tomorrow, May 22, 2017,; “Muflahi issued an important statement on the May 21 anniversary and discusses a return to Aden,” Aden Tomorrow, May 20, 2017,; Simon Shercliff, Twitter, May 20, 2017,; and Andreas Kindl, Twitter, May 21, 2017,
[2] “UN envoy for Yemen hopes for ceasefire before Ramadan begins,” al Arabiya, May 22, 2017,; “New international peace plan for Yemen includes the delivery of al Hudaydah, opening of Sana’a airport, and prisoner exchange,” Aden Tomorrow, May 20, 2017,; “UAE newspaper: new German initiative to resolve Yemeni crisis,” Aden Tomorrow, May 22, 2017,; “Saudi newspaper reveals the position of President Hadi on Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s truce,” Aden Lange, May 21, 2017,; Mohammed Abdul Salam, Facebook, May 22, 2017,; and “UN Envoy convoy attacked in Sana’a,” Aden Tomorrow, May 22, 2017,
[3] “Jared Malsin, “The Big Problem with President Trump’s Record Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia,” Time Magazine, May 22, 2017,; “President of the Republic participates in the launch of the Arab Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh,” Sabanew, May 21, 2017,; “Tillerson: We will work with Riyadh to deter Tehran in Syria and Yemen. Jubeir: We have an agreement to tackle terrorism,” Aden Lange, May 21, 2017,; and “Mass march in the capital of Sana’a rejects American terrorism,” Saba New, May 20, 2017,
[4] Ivan Castro, “Yemeni Air Defense Forces target Saudi F-15 fighter jet,” AMN Al Masdar News, May 21, 2017,; “Military media distributes scenes of the launch of the Borkan-2 at Riyadh,” al Masirah, May 20, 2017,; “Ballistic missile Borkan-2 strikes Salman Air Base near Saudi capital of Riyadh,” Sabanews, March 18, 2017,; “Missile force targets a long-range strike at a military base in Riyadh,” February 6, 2017,; and “Alliance leadership in support of Yemen: Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted a ballistic missile launched by the Houthi militias over an uninhabited area of al Rayn,” Saudi Press Agency, May 19, 2017,
[5] “Treasury Targets al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 19, 2017,; “(Khaled al Arada), which America imposed sanctions on is the right arm of (Ali Mohsen al Ahmar) Photos,” May 20, 2017,; “An air strike targeting a military vehicle with the son of the governor of Ma’rib,” Aden Lang, April 1, 2017,; and Demolinari,Twitter, March 30, 2017,
[6] “Massive attack east of Taiz and the army purge buildings along the Presidential Palace,” Mosnad, May 22, 2017,; and “National Army achieves progress in the Eastern Front in Taiz,” Saba New, May 22, 2017,
[7] “Somalia: Al-Shabaab suspects nabbed in massive sweep in Mogadishu,” Garowe Online, May 22, 2017,; “Security agencies launch massive swoop in Mogadishu, several arrested,” Goobjoog News, May 22, 2017,; and “ Somalia: Landmine explosion hits the capital Mogadishu, three injured,” Garowe Online, May 21, 2017,
[8] “Kenya to deploy more troops alongside its border with Somalia,” Goobjoog, May 22, 2017,; and “Kenya government to life Mandera curfew partially,” Goobjoog, May 22, 2017,
[9] “5 killed in botched Militant attack near Mahas town,” Shabelle News, May 22, 2017,
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