Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) have leveraged the recent successes of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s “Operation Golden Arrow” to increase their territorial control and boost recruitment in central and southern Yemen. The coalition’s recent series of victories have enabled Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to convince his allies to increase their commitment in Yemen.
AQAP is capitalizing on Operation Golden Arrow’s successes to pressure the al Houthis and expand its territorial control in central and southern Yemen. Militants from AQAP’s insurgent arm, Ansar al Sharia, launched a series of attacks against al Houthi positions in Jabal al Hama, Jabal Hirmaz, al Zahar, Dhi Na’im, and al Bayda city in al Bayda on August 6 and from August 8 to August 10. Separately, AQAP militants destroyed a Sufi mosque in al Wahat, Lahij on August 5. AQAP militants raised black flags as a sign of control in Lahij and Aden. They took over the government palace in al Hawta city, the capital of Lahij, after anti-al Houthi forces seized the city on August 4 and AQAP seized the towns of Rabat, al Lahoum, and al Masaabin in Aden on August 5. The militants also established military bases there. (Sources available upon request.)
AQAP is attempting to demonstrate its resilience, effectiveness, and ability to influence the global jihadist movement despite the death of its leader Nasser al Wahayshi through a series of media outputs. AQAP released a joint eulogy statement for Taliban leader Mullah Omar on August 5 with Jabhat al Nusra and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, signaling AQAP’s continued global role. The late AQAP cleric Ibrahim al Rubaish discussed a woman’s responsibilities in jihad in an August 2 video. An August 3 martyrdom video featured footage of slain AQAP militant Hamza al Sana’ani praising AQAP’s struggle against the al Houthis and anyone who provided military and financial support to this effort. AQAP spokesman Khalid Batarfi described French media outlet Charlie Hebdo’s decision to suspend publishing photos of the Prophet Muhammad as a victory. Batarfi also highlighted the success of lone-wolf operations in the U.S. and the Indian Subcontinent and called for lone-wolf attacks against the U.S. in an August 4 video. Separately, a pro-AQAP media group, Nokhba al Fikr, released a statement on August 4 in which AQAP bomb maker Ibrahim al Asiri allegedly condemned the recent al Jazeera documentary, entitled “Al Qaeda Informant,” and called for al Qaeda-affiliated groups to launch more attacks against the U.S.
Anti-al Houthi forces expanded their foothold in southern Yemen and continued their northern push against the al Houthis. In Lahij, anti-al Houthi militias, supported by foreign troops, seized the al Anad military base and 10 towns on August 3. An anti-al Houthi commander reported that the forces had nearly liberated Lahij and planned to liberate Abyan next. Popular resistance groups also took control of the Labuza military base on August 6. Separately in Abyan, anti-al Houthi forces besieged the al Houthi-controlled 15th Infantry Brigade camp in Zinjibar on August 3 and seized control of Zinjibar on August 9. Three soldiers from the United Arab Emirates were killed in the Operation Golden Arrow offensive on Zinjibar. Finally in Taiz and Ibb, popular resistance groups seized Jabal al Arous, Taiz and Jabal al Muqatr, Ibb on August 3. Saudi Arabian forces allegedly established an air presence over Taiz city, and local sources reported that the Gulf nation deployed warships to the port of Mocha on August 6. Anti-al Houthi officials in al Dhaleh, Taiz, and Ibb created a Council of Resistance to support Operation Golden Arrow and popular resistance groups on August 6. The officials elected Major General Sheikh Abdel Wahid Hazam al Shalay al Daam, a famous anti-al Houthi leader in Ibb, as president and Hani al Sayadi as vice president. Anti-al Houthi militias and foreign troops took control of al Siteen street in Taiz city on August 9. Popular resistance groups seized three districts in Ibb and established checkpoints in these areas on August 10.
Egypt is backing efforts to reinstall the Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi-led government. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al Sisi and Yemeni President Hadi reached an agreement in Cairo, Egypt, on August 6. Egypt agreed to deploy naval troops to assist in guarding ports controlled by pro-Hadi forces and training Yemeni soldiers to protect the Bab al Mandab sea-lane. Finally, the Yemeni Press Secretary of the Office of the Presidency reported on August 7 that Hadi would likely visit Aden in the next few days.
Al Houthi militants increased attacks along the Saudi Arabian-Yemeni border as unconfirmed reports cite Saudi preparations to mount an offensive in northern Yemen. Al Houthi militants shelled the Saudi border provinces of Jizan and Najran, and another unspecified area in Saudi Arabia on July 31, August 2, and August 5. These attacks killed four Saudi soldiers and one Saudi citizen. Al Houthi militants allegedly shot down a Saudi Apache helicopter in the Haradh region of the Saudi-Yemeni border on August 5. Anonymous pro-Hadi military sources reported that Saudi-trained forces and armored vehicles are being deployed from the town of Sharura and are advancing through Ma’rib and Shabwah on August 6 in preparation for besieging Sana’a.
Hadi’s government, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and the al Houthis and their allies continue efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict. UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed met with the Secretary-General of both Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt on August 4 to discuss a potential Yemeni peace agreement. Ahmed reported that the GPC and Saudi Arabia responded favorably to the Yemeni peace plan and would travel to Oman to review the plan with al Houthis. The UN stated on August 4 that the Arab League was ready to send international observers to Yemen if Hadi’s government and the al Houthis could negotiate a ceasefire. An Omani plane arrived at Sana’a International Airport to transport an al Houthi delegation to meet with Ahmed in Muscat, Oman on August 7. If the Saudi-led coalition mounts another offensive during the negotiations, the al Houthis may threaten to withdraw from the process unless a ceasefire is implemented.
ISIS seeks to exploit Operation Golden Arrow’s successes for recruitment. ISIS supporters on Twitter released a series of martyrdom songs on August 5, framing ISIS’s operations in Yemen within a broader Sunni-Shi’a conflict and mourning the recent death of ISIS militant: Musa’ab al Adeni. Separately, ISIS Wilayat Aden militants raided and destroyed Christian graves and religious structures in an Aden cemetery on August 5. Finally, a pro-ISIS Twitter account stated that ISIS Wilayat al Bayda militants were allegedly preparing to mount a siege on Rada’a, al Bayda on August 5. If ISIS can successfully seize Rada’a, then this move would undermine AQAP’s self-proclaimed role as protector of the Sunni people and enable ISIS to siphon potential AQAP recruits.
AQAP and ISIS will continue to benefit from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s campaign because of the coalition’s strict focus on the al Houthis. The al Houthis have still not agreed to Hadi’s preconditions, but recent coalition victories will allow him to negotiate from a position of strength in the upcoming Oman negotiatons.