Yemen: Long-simmering Tensions Between Southern Forces and Pro-Hadi Forces Erupt in Aden
Brian M. Perkins
Aside from the remote portions of Yemen’s eastern governorates, Southern Yemen has experienced the least amount of direct fighting against the Houthis since UAE-backed forces pushed the group out of the port city of Aden in July 2015. However, another conflict has been boiling beneath the surface—one that has pitted UAE-backed forces, many with secessionist leanings, against forces loyal to President Hadi and the Islah party.
Aden, the temporary base of Hadi’s government, is at the center of this conflict. For the past several years intermittent clashes have broken out between Hadi’s Presidential Guard and the UAE-backed Security Belt, which is also closely aligned with the pro-secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which aims to govern Southern Yemen (Terrorism Monitor, March 1).
While violent clashes between the Security Belt and pro-Hadi forces were common, the Security Belt’s close ties with Emirati advisors and forces in Southern Yemen and the UAE’s coalition with Saudi Arabia had managed to keep the conflict from boiling over into a secondary civil war within the broader civil war. The UAE would calm the Security Belt while Saudi Arabia would press its allied groups—the pro-Hadi forces and Islah—to ease tensions.
A larger conflict was always inevitable due to the rise of pro-secessionist militias across the Southern governorates and growing popular support for the Southern Transitional Council, which stands in direct opposition to Hadi’s rule. What was less predictable, however, was what would trigger a larger conflict and when it would occur, with many expecting it to break out if/when a political settlement with the Houthis came about.
The conditions that had held the conflict in Southern Yemen at bay, however, changed drastically when the UAE unexpectedly began withdrawing from Yemen in early July. The withdrawal further exposed the fissures that had already been visible between UAE-backed Southern forces and Hadi as well as those between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, which had been pursuing divergent interests and supporting diametrically opposed parties since the war first began.
Tensions had already been high as the Emirati withdrawal left the Security Belt and Southern Transitional Council in de facto control of Aden, no longer as closely tethered by the UAE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. More intense fighting broke out in Aden on August 7 during a funeral for prominent Security Belt commander, Munir al-Yafei (a.k.a. Abu al-Yamama), who was killed when a Houthi-launched missile struck a military parade at al-Jalaa camp in the Buraiqa district of Aden (Aden al-Ghad, August 2). The Houthis claimed responsibility, but STC leaders and members suggested collusion involving Islah, with STC Vice President Hani bin Brik calling on supporters to topple the group (South Arabia News, August 6; Aden al-Ghad, August 7; Twitter.com/Hanibinbrek, August 8). Security Belt members and STC activists began anti-government chants as the situation escalated to gunfire being exchanged between the Security Belt and the Presidential Guard. Fighting is ongoing with dozens of casualties being reported. Violence has been most pronounced in Crater and Khormaksar, the latter being of particular strategic importance. Khormaksar connects Crater District and the end of the peninsula Aden lies on to Aden International Airport and the rest of the mainland.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have urged restraint but their control over the situation is considerably lower than in the past. A continued escalation in violence, or worse, a concerted attempt to topple the Hadi regime, will likely see the quick deterioration of security throughout Aden as other parties, particularly the Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, attempt to exploit the chaos in what has been one of the more stable regions of Yemen. Further, the outbreak of a sustained conflict between pro-Hadi forces and Southern forces could have catastrophic effects on the fight against the Houthis as it is likely to draw Southern fighters away from active fronts against the Houthis.
G5-Sahel Leadership Changes as Terrorism Expands
Brian M. Perkins
Leadership changes are underway again for the G5-Sahel, the joint counter-terrorism force comprised of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania. The reshuffling of leadership from Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi to Nigerien General Oumarou Namata is the second leadership change since July 2018 and comes amid continued growth and operations by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) (Malijet, July 19, 2018; North Africa Post, July 23). Similar to the last leadership change, the reshuffling came just weeks after JNIM claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack on the G5-Sahel headquarters in Sevare, Central Mali and days after the group conducted a suicide bombing on a French base at an airport in Gao, Mali.
Leadership changes within the G5-Sahel force have largely been a face-saving tactic rather than an organized effort to shift tactical operations. The joint force will undoubtedly continue to be plagued by the same issues it has experienced under previous leadership—poor coordination, lack of equipment, and poor training. There is some optimism that the G5’s capabilities will be boosted by the $155 million pledged by the European Union in early July (Bamada, July 11). The benefits from this support, however, will not be realized for quite some time and will do little to improve coordination across the various forces that comprise the G5.
The ineffectiveness of both the G5-Sahel and French forces in the region coupled with freedom of movement across borders and strong recruitment efforts has allowed jihadist groups, such as JNIM and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), to increase their span of control and operational footprint across the region. JNIM and ISGS have even reportedly opened upwards of 600 schools along the border between Mali and Burkina Faso—the area most plagued by violence—which is a testament to their control of and embeddedness within the territory. The groups have also rapidly expanded their footprints to include West African nations of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
The proliferation of terrorist activity in the region has drawn in countless international participants, including France, the United States, and Turkey, among others. The G5, however, is still struggling to draw in support from regional neighbors—such as those in coastal West Africa—that are threatened by the expanding jihadist footprint. The participation of these nations is only likely to come once the threat is existential. Meanwhile, foreign involvement has had a tendency to further entrench jihadist sentiments across Africa. If the international component of the counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel outpaces the regional African component while not addressing any of the systemic causes, the conflict is almost certain to worsen.