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: UN and al Houthi officials agree to open a medical air bridge to Sana’a; UN envoy to Yemen meets with al Houthi leadership in Sana’a; AQAP claims to repel Emirati-backed forces in Abyan governorate; Saudi-led coalition airstrikes kill civilians in al Hudaydah city and al Bayda governorate

Horn of Africa: Djibouti emerges as arms trafficking hub for the Horn of Africa; Ethiopia and Eritrea sign agreement in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; ethnic violence kills dozens and displaces thousands in Addis Ababa outskirts; former Oromo rebel group returns to Ethiopia; Ethiopian airstrike kills 70 al Shabaab militants in Somalia; al Shabaab car bomb targets Somali parliamentarian in Mogadishu

Yemen Security Brief

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lisa Grande signed a deal with the al Houthi movement on September 16 to open a humanitarian medical air bridge to evacuate sick civilians. The air bridge will allow civilians suffering from cancer, chronic diseases, and congenital anomalies to access medical treatment outside of Yemen. Yemeni Deputy Minister for Youth Affairs Hamza al Kamali stated that the Hadi government will not recognize the agreement because it is concerned that Hezbollah could use the flights to smuggle its fighters out of the country. Kamali added that the UN must work through the Hadi government, not the al Houthi movement, to form a medical air bridge.[1]

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in Sana’a on September 16 to discuss the Yemen peace process with al Houthi officials. Griffiths met with the Head of the al Houthi Supreme Political Council Mahdi al Mashat on September 17 and discussed the Emirati-backed offensive on al Hudaydah port city. Griffiths travelled to Muscat, Oman on September 12 to meet with Omani foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi and al Houthi political leaders.[2]

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed to repel Emirati-backed forces in Abyan governorate, southern Yemen, in a September 17 statement. Al Hizam Rapid Intervention Forces raided an AQAP position in Mudia district, northeastern Abyan governorate on September 16. Local military sources confirmed that two al Hizam soldiers died and three others were injured in the clashes.[3]

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least four civilians at a radio station in al Hudaydah city, western Yemen on September 13. The four civilians were employees of the al Maraweah radio station. Emirati-backed Yemeni forces resumed an offensive on al Hudaydah port city on September 7 after the al Houthi delegation did not attend the September 6 UN Geneva consultations. A Saudi-led coalition airstrike also killed at least 7 civilians, including four women and two children, in a house in al Bayda governorate, central Yemen on September 13. The house was not the intended target, according to an anonymous Hadi government official.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Djibouti is emerging as a leading hub of arms trade in the Horn of Africa, according to a report from the business risk firm Exx Africa. Many Djibouti-based companies that work in the country’s maritime trade sector are also involved in arms smuggling. Most of the weapons arriving in Djibouti come from Khokha district of al Hudaydah governorate in Yemen, which was controlled by the al Houthi movement until early December. Most of the weapons traveling through Djibouti reach armed groups in northern Somalia that are supported by the government of Djibouti. The investigation suggests that the Djiboutian government is aware of and may be encouraging the trade. The researchers found no evidence of direct Djiboutian government support for al Shabaab, however. The investigation revealed that the Djiboutian contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been involved in supplying weapons to armed groups in northern Somalia. The weapons have also reached armed groups in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.[5]

Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement to further bolster ties in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on September 16. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed the agreement in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan. None of the parties released any specific details of the agreement. King Salman awarded Abiy and Afwerki the Order of King Abdulaziz in recognition of their work promoting regional peace and stability. Abiy and Afwerki signed a peace agreement on July 9, ending two decades of hostilities between their countries.[6]

Ethnic violence killed at least 23 people and displaced thousands in the outskirts of Addis Ababa over the weekend. Attacks against ethnic Gamo, Wolayta, Guraghe, and Silte occurred in Buraya, Oromia region, and other Oromia towns near Addis Ababa on September 15. Locals blamed the attacks on ethnic Oromo youth, popularly called “Qeerroo.” Hundreds of protesters marched in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa to protest the violence on September 17. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s first Oromo prime minister, condemned the attacks and deployed federal troops to Addis Ababa and Oromia region on September 16. Authorities reported arresting over 70 people. Hundreds of thousands of Oromo gathered in Addis Ababa on September 15 to welcome home the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a formerly Eritrea-based rebel group which Abiy removed from the state’s list of designated terrorist organizations earlier this year. OLF supporters held a ceremony in Meskel Square for OLF leader Dawud Ibsa and other senior officials who had been in exile for nearly three decades. 1,500 OLF fighters returned to Ethiopia from Eritrea earlier on September 15.[7]

The Ethiopian Air Force conducted an airstrike against al Shabaab in Somalia, killing 70 al Shabaab militants, according to a report from Ethiopian state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate. The attack destroyed two al Shabaab vehicles. The Ethiopian air force conducted the airstrike to thwart an al Shabaab attack on Ethiopian forces from AMISOM. Fana Broadcasting did not state where in Somalia or when the attack occurred.[8]

Al Shabaab detonated a car bomb targeting a Somali Member of Parliament in Mogadishu on September 16. The explosion injured MP Mohamed Mursal Barrow and killed his driver. Barrow is currently in critical condition. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.[9]

[1] “Humanitarian medical air bridge in Yemen, Relief Web, September 17, 2018,; and “UN Houthi deal on air bridge angers Yemen government, The National, September 17, 2018,; and :UN inks deal for medical air bridge with Yemen’s capital, ABC News, September 17, 2018,

[2] “After skipping Geneva talks Yemen’s al Houthis set conditions for second meeting,” Al Arabiya, September 17, 2018,; and “Mahdi al Mashat meets with UN Envoy Martin Griffiths, Saba Net, September 17, 2018,

[3] “AQAP claims bombing Houthis in al Bayda’ inflicting casualties among SBF in clash in Abyan,” SITE Intelligence Group Enterprise, September 17, 2018,; “Two soldiers killed and three injured in an AQAP ambush in Abyan,” Anadolu Agency, September 16, 2018,; and “URGENT: Dead and wounded of soldiers in al Hizam Security Forces in clashes with al Qaeda elements in Abyan,” Aden al Ghad, September 16, 2018,   

[4] Saudi-led airstrike kills four at Yemen radio station, UN intensifies diplomacy,” Reuters, September 16, 2018,; and “Saudi-led airstrike kills four women and two children in Yemen,” Middle East Eye, September 17, 2018,

[5] Zeenat Hansrod, “Djibouti emerges as arms trafficking hub for Horn of Africa,” RFI, September 15, 2018,

[6] “Ethiopia, Eritrea sign agreement in Saudi Arabia,” Voice of America, September 16, 2018,; and “Eritrea and Ethiopia sign peace agreement in Saudi Arabia overseen by King Salman,” Arab News, September 16, 2018,

[7] Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban, “Brutal ‘ethnic’ attacks on outskirts of Ethiopia capital Addis Ababa,” Africa News, September 16, 2018,; Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban, “Ethiopia PM condemns cowardly violence, vows appropriate response,” Africa News, September 16, 2018,; Dawit Endeshaw, “Addis Ababa demonstrates against recent violence,” The Reporter, September 17, 2018,; “At least 23 dead in weekend of ethnic violence in Ethiopia,” Agence France Presse, September 17, 2018,; “Hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia welcome once-banned group,” Associated Press, September 15, 2018,; and “Like PG7, Ethiopia govt welcomes Oromo Liberation Front back home,” September 17, 2018,

[8] “Report: Ethiopian airstrike kills 70 al-Shabaab in Somalia,” Associated Press, September 15, 2018,; and “Ethiopia says airstrike in Somalia kills 70 al Shabaab militants,” Garowe, September 15, 2018,

[9] “Car bomb wounds MP, kills his driver in Mogadishu,” Garowe, September 17, 2018,; and “Al Shabaab claims responsibility for Mogadishu blast,” Mareeg, September 16, 2018,

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