Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) continue to leverage Saudi-led coalition victories to increase territorial control and recruitment in Yemen. Coalition forces began efforts to strengthen Yemeni President Abdu Mansour Hadi’s ability to govern and control recently liberated territories in southern and eastern Yemen.
AQAP and ISIS conducted military and political activities in Aden despite the Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi government’s claim of securing the governorate. AQAP militants attacked key government and military buildings and seized two districts in Aden on August 22 before withdrawing the next day. A pro-AQAP media group also released a photoset commemorating AQAP’s recent southern battles against the al Houthis to boost recruitment in Yemen. Separately, ISIS Wilayat Aden militants executed an alleged “apostate” agent and ISIS supporters distributed pamphlets, threatening to punish foreign agents and local exploiters in Aden. (Sources available on request.) Finally, Saudi-led coalition forces started efforts to curb southern jihadist activities by implementing police training and equipment programs to rebuild the Yemeni security forces and redeploying coalition troops to the recently liberated territories.
Saudi-led coalition forces are preparing to mount an offensive to regain control of al Mukalla city in Yemen’s eastern Hadramawt governorate from AQAP. Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah called for local Hadhramis to resist against AQAP following the group’s failure to adhere to the August 20 deadline for AQAP’s withdrawal from al Mukalla city. AQAP militants continued to operate in the city despite reports of a pending Saudi-led operation to liberate al Mukalla. The impending operation also seeks to galvanize tribal opposition against AQAP because the Hadramawt Tribal Confederacy and other tribes have previously dismissed the government’s calls to action without external support.
AQAP is attempting to bolster its new leader’s standing and religious credentials in the global jihadist movement. A new AQAP cleric, Abu Abdullah al Mubarak, claimed that AQAP leader Qasim al Raymi, along with the Prophet Muhammad, exemplified how Muslims should practice Islamic moral codes and properly oversee important financial institutions in accordance with shari’a law in an August 23 video. AQAP’s rapid release of a new video series with Mubarak may also represent the group’s efforts to develop a new line of clerics and ideologues to address the current religious leadership vacuum. (Sources available upon request.)
Al Houthi militants increased attacks along the Saudi Arabian-Yemeni border as the Saudi-led coalition amassed its forces in central Ma’rib. Al Houthi forces continued their series of cross-border artillery strikes against Saudi military sites, downing an Apache helicopter and killing the highest-ranking Saudi officer since March. Saudi-led coalition forces seized northern al Houthi sites in Sa’ada along the Saudi-Yemeni border to reduce cross-border attacks on August 26. Separately, 8 Apache helicopters and 100 Saudi armored vehicles and tanks transferred from Shabwah to central Ma’rib throughout the weekend. Apache helicopters repelled al Houthi attacks on massing coalition forces in Ma’rib on August 24, according to local sources. It is unclear whether the coalition forces are preparing an assault on northern Yemen.
Saudi-led coalition forces regained some territory after al Houthi counterattacks in southern and eastern Yemen and pushed to take control of al Bayda. In Ibb, Taiz, and Shabwah, popular resistance groups seized more territory and continued their efforts to defeat the remaining al Houthi forces. In the central al Bayda governorate, Saudi-led forces launched a military operation to expel the al Houthis in coordination with anti-al Houthi militias. Separately, suspected AQAP militants detonated a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device near an al Houthi-controlled building in al Bayda city.
Hadi’s government, the Saudi-led coalition, and the al Houthis and their allies continue efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict. Hadi’s government submitted a road map for implementing UNSCR 2216, a plan to end the current crisis in Yemen, to the UN on August 21.
The Saudi-led coalition will continue to consolidate control of recently liberated territories in southern and eastern Yemen. The coalition’s pending operation in al Mukalla and redeployment in southern Yemen will test the extent to which the jihadists can continue to benefit from the conflict. Hadi’s reliance on foreign troops highlights his government’s lack of support among anti-al Houthi militias and inability to secure liberated territories and rally local opposition against jihadist groups.