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: Saudi- and Emirati-backed forces clash over control of Aden airport; militants attack oil tanker in Bab al Mandab Strait; Southern Yemeni council president meets with Abu Dhabi crown prince; U.S. to sell THAAD air defense systems to Saudi Arabia; ISIS Wilayat al Bayda distributes photoset of attacks in central Yemen; UN Under-Secretary-General For Humanitarian Affairs warns that Yemen nears collapse

Horn of Africa: Somali security forces interdict al Shabaab truck bomb in Boosaaso, northern Somalia; al Shabaab militants detonate IED targeting Kenyan police; Somali security forces clash with militants in Mogadishu qat market; UAE nears completion of military base in Somaliland

Yemen Security Brief

Saudi-backed Yemeni forces fought Emirati-backed forces for control of Aden International Airport on May 31. Deputy Director of Security at Aden International Airport, al Khader Saleh Kurdah, led the Saudi-backed forces, which support President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. The Emirati-backed forces are pledged to Aden Security Director Shalal Ali Shaye'a and the Political Transitional Council for the South. The clash began after Kurdah resisted Emirati-backed Aden Security Forces and al Hizam counterterrorism forces that attempted to arrest him. Hostilities escalated when Kurdah’s supporters fired anti-aircraft guns toward Emirati fighter jets. Aden Security Forces led by Aden International Airport Security Director Saleh al Amri later arrested Kurdah and currently control the airport. Kurdah’s forces likely attempted to seize the airport to allow officials from President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, who are currently based in Riyadh, to enter Yemen without the approval of the rival Political Transitional Council. Al Amri prevented President Hadi from landing in Aden in February, sparking intermittent clashes that persisted through May. Aden governor Abdul Aziz al Muflahi condemned the fighting as a poor reflection on the Yemeni government.[1] 

Militants fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) toward a Marshall Islands-flagged commercial oil tanker passing through the Bab al Mandab Strait on May 31. An EU Naval Force spokesman stated that the attack was related to instability in Yemen, not piracy. The Bab al Mandab is one of the world’s major naval chokepoints and energy transit zones. Militants fired RPGs at a Spanish-flagged gas tanker near the Yemeni coast on October 25, 2016.[2]

The president of the Political Transitional Council for the South, Aydarus al Zubaidi, met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan in the UAE. Zubaidi is meeting with officials throughout the region in an effort to secure international support for the council, which formed in May 2017 to seek greater autonomy for southern Yemen. The UAE backs members of the Political Transitional Council against the Islah party, a rival political bloc affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Transitional Political Council members announced a plan to visit European capitals to request support on May 30.[3]

The U.S. may sell Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia as part of an arms deal signed on May 20, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The THAAD system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles while minimizing the likelihood that their payload will detonate. It could reduce casualties inflicted by al Houthi-Saleh ballistic missile attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.[4]

The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) Wilayat al Bayda released a photoset of its militants planning and conducting an attack against al Houthi-Saleh forces in northwestern al Bayda governorate on May 30. The photoset featured militants firing a combination of small arms and artillery at al Houthi-Saleh forces in the Zahara area. ISIS Wilayat al Bayda last claimed an attack on May 16.[5]

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien warned the UN Security Council that Yemen is on the brink of collapse on May 30. O’Brien stated that 17 million people require food aid, including 6.8 million people at risk of a man-made famine. The World Health Organization (WHO) also released a report on May 30 stating that the latest cholera outbreak has killed over 470 people throughout Yemen in roughly one month.[6]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Somali security forces arrested two al Shabaab militants driving a shipping truck containing explosive materials in Boosaaso, Bari region, northern Somalia on May 31. Security forces seized several metal containers filled with explosives, hand grenades, and walkie-talkies hidden among food packages in the truck. The militants passed through several security checkpoints on the road to Boosaaso from Beledweyne, Hiraan region, in central Somalia. Militants also detonated an IED striking a civilian bus in Balli-khadar valley near Boosaaso, Bari region, Somalia on May 31.[7]

Al Shabaab militants planted an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Kenyan police officers in Mangai, Lamu County, southeastern Kenya. The Rural Border Unit patrol vehicle ran over the IED, which killed five officers. Al Shabaab attacks in Kenya killed 17 police officers in the past three weeks.[8]

Somali National Army (SNA) and Mogadishu Peace Restoration Forces clashed with militants at a qat market in Hodan district, Mogadishu on May 30. Security forces confronted militants loyal to former Somali warlord Mahad Doolar while responding to the assassination of an electoral delegate in the market earlier that evening. Security forces arrested Doolar.[9]  

Somaliland Foreign Minister Saad Ali Shire announced on May 31 that the Emirati military base in Berbera, Somalia, will be operational soon. Somaliland signed a thirty-year contract with the UAE to maintain the base. The UAE intends to use its bases in Assab, Eritrea, and Somalia to carry out missions in Yemen against al Houthi-Saleh and AQAP targets.[10]

[1] “Forces belonging to the Arab alliance control the Aden Airport and formally handed it over to the Aden Security Department,” Aden Lange, May 31, 2017,; Demolinari, Twitter, May 31, 2017,; Ahmed al Haj, “UAE-backed forces gain control over Aden airport,” The Washington Post, May 31,; and “Aden governor discusses airport clashes,” Barakish, May 31, 2017,
[2] Katharine Houreld, “Oil tanker attacked in key shipping lane off Yemen,” Reuters, May 31, 2017,; and “RPG fired at agas ship off Yemen”, Splash 24/7, October 26, 2016,
[3] “President of the Southern Transitional Council hosted by UAE leaders,” Aden Tomorrow, May 31, 2017,; and “A political tour of the leaders of the Transitional Political Council in Europe,” Aden Tomorrow, May 30, 2017,
[4] “Saudi Arms Deal May Include THAAD, Coastal Patrol Ships,” DefenseTech, May 26, 2017,
[5] “Yemen: Islamic State publishes pictures of its battles against the Houthis in Zahara district in Qayfa,” Dawaal Haq, May 30, 2017.
[6] “Deprivation, disease, death: Yemen on brink of 'total collapse,'” The New Arab, May 21, 2017,;
[7] “Bomb Materials and Alshabab Fighters Nabbed by Puntland,” Goobjoog News, May 31, 2017,; “Somalia: Puntland forces seize truck carrying bomb-making materials,” Garowe Online, May 31, 2017,; and “Two killed in bomb blast near Galgala mountains,” Shabelle News, May 31, 2017,
[8] “Five Kenyan police officers killed in Al shabaab attack,” Shabelle News, May 31, 2017,
[9] “Somalia: Heavy gunfight reported in Mogadishu amid disarmament operation,” Garowe Online, May 31, 2017,; “Somalia: troops exchange fierce gunfire in Mogadishu,” Shabelle News, May 31, 2017,; and “An electoral delegate shot dead in Somali Capital,” Shabelle News, May 31, 2017,
[10] “UAE base in Somaliland to launch military operations,” Shabelle News, May 31, 2017,

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