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: AQAP claims to dismantle spy network; southern Yemenis protest against Hadi government and Saudi-led coalition’s inability to prevent economic crisis; Saudi-led coalition acknowledges mistakes in airstrike that killed children but reaffirms it hit legitimate military target; Spain cancels weapon delivery to Saudi Arabia; Saudi-led coalition airstrike kills al Houthi missile expert in western Yemen

Horn of Africa: Russia announces plans to open logistics center at Eritrean port; Eritrea intends to eliminate indefinite mandatory national service; al Shabaab conducts SVBIED attack on government building in Hawl Wadag district, Mogadishu; SNA and Jubbaland security forces conduct operations against al Shabaab in Lower Shabelle region; al Shabaab shoots Kenyan police helicopter in Lamu County, southeastern Kenya

Yemen Security Brief

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) alleged to dismantle a Saudi spy cell in a September 4 video. AQAP claimed the seven-man cell ran by Saudi intelligence was responsible for providing intelligence that facilitated the majority of U.S. airstrikes targeting AQAP. The video, titled “The demolishing of Espionage,” also claimed that AQAP was able to obtain important information from the spies’ confessions “which was not known even during the first days of ignorance.”[1]

Hundreds of Yemenis protested against Yemen’s weakening currency and deteriorating economic situation in southern Yemen between August 30 and September 4. Some of the protesters demanded the Saudi-led coalition withdrawal from southern Yemen. Protests began in Aden then spread to Hadramawt, Abyan, and Lahij governorates. The Yemeni riyal dropped in value to 620 riyals to one U.S. dollar on September 3. President Hadi ordered an increase in oil exports and a pay raise for civil servants on September 2 in an effort to counter the economic crisis.[2]

The Saudi-led coalition’s investigative body acknowledged mistakes were made in an August 9 airstrike that killed roughly 30 children in northern Yemen but emphasized that the target was a legitimate military target on September 2. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) stated that the bus the coalition struck was transporting al Houthi commanders but the airstrike should have occurred in an open area to avoid civilian casualties. The JIAT also recommend the coalition review its rules of engagement. The U.S. Department of State praised the announcement as a crucial first step toward full transparency and accountability. Coalition Spokesperson Colonel Turki al Malki denied the coalition is responsible for war crimes in Yemen and reiterated that the bus was transporting al Houthi commanders, not school children, on September 3. Human Rights Watch described the August 9 airstrike as an “apparent war crime” and demanded an immediate halt to countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. reportedly sold the bomb to Saudi Arabia that was used in the August 9 airstrike.[3]

Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles canceled the delivery of 400 Spanish-made bombs to Saudi Arabia due to concerns that the weapons could be used in the Yemen conflict on September 3. An August 28 UN human rights report stated some Saudi-led coalition airstrikes may amount to war crimes. The arms deal was originally signed in 2015 under Spain’s former conservative government. The current government announced that it will return the $10.6 million already paid by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Madrid did not respond to the announcement.[4]

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed al Houthi missile expert Taha Ali Ahmad al Hamli in al Darayhimi district, south of al Hudaydah city, on September 2. Al Hamli was a prominent al Houthi field commander and has contributed to the development of the al Houthi movement’s ballistic missile capabilities, according to al Arabiya.[5]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Russia announced that it plans to open a “logistics center” at an undisclosed port in Eritrea. Russian Foreign MInister Sergei Lavrov stated that the center would help develop bilateral trade. Lavrov discussed the plans with an Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebrab in Sochi, Russia on August 31. Lavrov stated during the meeting that Russia believes it is necessary for the UN to begin removing sanctions on Eritrea that were first imposed in 2009.[6]

Eritrea announced that it plans to reduce the size of its army and eliminate indefinite mandatory national service, although the government has not announced a specific timeline for the transition. Eritrea currently has a system of mandatory national service which the government claims approximately 20% of Eritreans fulfill through military service. Eritrea has extended national service past the statutory 18 months in recent years, citing the threat posed by neighboring Ethiopia. Eritrea formally made peace with Ethiopia in July after twenty years of hostilities. Eritrean officials stated that demobilization will be contingent on Ethiopia fulfilling its commitments as outlined by the peace agreement. The UN has claimed Eritrea’s indefinite national service system is responsible for mass Eritrean migration to Europe.[7]

Al Shabaab conducted a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack against a local government building in Hawl Wadag district, Mogadishu on September 2. The attack destroyed the building, caused a nearby school to collapse, and damaged a mosque. The attack killed six people and injured over twelve others.[8]

Somalia National Army (SNA) soldiers and Jubbaland forces conducted operations against al Shabaab hideouts in Lower Shabelle region, southern Somalia. SNA forces killed several al Shabaab militants. The exact locations of the operations are unknown.[9]

Al Shabaab militants shot and damaged a Kenyan police helicopter in Boni forest, Lamu County, southeastern Kenya on September 1. The pilot managed to land the MI-17 helicopter safely at a nearby police camp. Kenyan security forces discovered an abandoned al Shabaab hideout in Boni forest on September 2. Security forces discovered materials used for making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the camp. Security forces stated that they believe the camp was the one used by al Shabaab militants to conduct an IED attack on a Kenya Defense Forces convoy that killed five soldiers on August 29.[10]


[1] “AQAP video documents confessions of alleged Saudi intel spy network uncovered after year-long investigation,” SITE, September 4, 2018, available at ent.siteintelgroup.com.

[2] “Protests over Yemen’s weakening currency paralyze Aden,” Reuters, September 2, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/protests-over-yemens-weakening-currency-paralyze-aden-idUSKCN1LI0EZ; “Hundreds protest against high prices in Aden’s Yemen,” Al Jazeera, September 3, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/09/hundreds-protest-high-prices-yemen-aden-180903055039933.html; and “Protests over Yemen’s economic malaise spread to other southern cities,” Reuters, September 3, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/protests-over-yemens-economic-malaise-spread-to-other-southern-cities-idUSKCN1LJ1QH; “Protestors in Yemen’s south continue for the third day,” Erem News, September 4, 2018, https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/yemen/1480876; “Protests over Yemen’s weakening currency paralyze Aden,” Middle East Eye, September 3, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/protests-over-yemens-weakening-currency-paralyse-aden-593711632; and “Yemnis continue protests amid currency plunge,” Anadolu Agency, September 4, 2018, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/yemenis-continue-protests-amid-currency-plunge-/1246006.

[3] “Saudi coalition admits error in Yemen airstrike that killed dozen,” The New York Times, September 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/02/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-yemen-strike.html; and “Saudi-led coalition’s announcement on reviewing rules of engagement in Yemen,” US State of Department, September 2, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/09/285659.htm; and “Saudi coalition spokesman denies war crimes in Yemen following report by Human Rights Watch,” CNN, September 3, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/02/middleeast/saudi-yemen-school-bus-strike-war-crime-intl/index.html; Yemen: Coalition bus bombing apparent war crime,” Reuters, September 2, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/02/yemen-coalition-bus-bombing-apparent-war-crime; and “Saudi-led airstrike on Yemen bus a war crime, says Human Rights Watch,” Sky News, September 2, 2018, https://news.sky.com/story/saudi-led-airstrike-on-yemen-bus-a-war-crime-say-human-rights-watch-11489134.

[4] “Spain cancels 9.2 mn euros deal to sell Saudis 400 precision bomb,” Press TV, September 03, 2018,  https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/09/03/573114/Spain-saudi-arms-deal; “Spain cancels sale of 400 bombs to Saudi Arabia,” Gulf Times, September 04, 2018, https://www2.gulf-times.com/story/604889/Spain-cancels-sale-of-400-bombs-to-Saudi-Arabia; and “Spain cancels bombs sale to Saudi Arabia amid Yemen concerns,” The Washington Times, September 04, 2018, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/sep/4/spain-cancels-bombs-sale-to-saudi-arabia-amid-yeme/.

[5] “Houthi missile expert killed in coalition airstrike on Yemen’s Hudaydah,” Al Arabiya, September 2, 2018, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2018/09/02/Houthi-missile-expert-killed-in-coalition-airstrike-on-Yemen-s-Hodeidah.html.

[6] “Russia in talks with Eritrea to set up port project,” Reuters, 31 August 2018, https://af.reuters.com/article/ethiopiaNews/idAFR4N1VI01N; Abdi Latif Dahir, “Russia is the latest world power eyeing the Horn of Africa,” Quartz, September 3, 2018, https://qz.com/africa/1377434/russias-sergey-lavrov-confirms-plans-for-logistics-base-in-eritrea/; and “Eritrea, Russia Foreign Ministers meet in Sochi,” Tesfa News, August 31, 2018, https://www.tesfanews.net/russia-eritrea-foreign-ministers-sochi-meet/.

[7] Nizar Manek, “Eritrea May Alter Army Draft That Forced Thousands to Europe,” Bloomberg, 2 September 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-02/eritrea-may-change-army-draft-that-spurred-thousands-to-europe.

[8] “Al Shabaab car bomb kills at least six in central Mogadishu,” Reuters, September 2, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-security/al-shabaab-car-bomb-kills-at-least-six-in-central-mogadishu-idUSKCN1LI05Y?il=0; “Somalia’s capital Mogadishu hit by ‘huge explosion’,” BBC, September 2, 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45387620; and “Huge blast in Mogadishu kills at least 5, injures dozens,” Africa News, September 2, 2018, http://www.africanews.com/2018/09/02/huge-blast-in-mogadishu-kills-at-least-5-injures-dozens/.

[9] Shmuel Yosef Agnon, “SNA, Jubbaland Forces Conduct a Military Operation in Lower Shabelle, Kills Several A-Shabaab Militants,” Strategic Intelligence, 4 September 2018, https://intelligencebriefs.com/sna-jubbaland-forces-conduct-a-military-operation-in-lower-shabelle-kills-several-a-shabaab-militants/.

[10] Cyrus Ombati, “Police discover al-Shabaab hideout in Boni Forest,” Standard Digital, September 2, 2018, https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001294247/police-discover-al-shabaab-hideout-in-boni-forest; and “Gulf of Aden Security Review,” the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, August 29, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-august-29-2018.

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