Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 18


Fighting Escalates in Yemen’s Port City of Hodeidah

Michael Horton

For months, the port city of Hodeidah has enjoyed relative calm compared with much of war-torn Yemen. This has changed over the last two weeks. The uneasy ceasefire between the Houthis and rival forces agreed to in late 2018 is breaking down. While ceasefire violations by all sides in the conflict are routine, during the first two weeks of October fighting escalated dramatically. In early October, militias loyal to Tariq Saleh began a concerted push into the southern and eastern outskirts of Hodiedah (see MLM, June 2). The Houthis responded by launching a counter-offensive in the district of al-Durayhimi where they attempted to position themselves behind Saleh’s troops south of the city. At the same time, the Houthis reinforced their positions along the southern and eastern edges of the city.

The escalation of fighting in and around Hodeidah coincides with ongoing backchannel negotiations between Saudi Arabia, the Hadi-led government, and the Houthis, and fierce battles in the governorate of Marib (Arab News, October 11). There, the Houthis and their allies are fighting forces allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Marib’s powerful and well-armed tribes, especially members of the Murad tribe, are doing most of the fighting. The Murad, who are nominally allied with the internationally recognized government, are battling to defend their traditional homelands from the Houthis and those tribes allied with them. Some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war is currently taking place around Jebel Murad where all sides are taking heavy casualties. [1]

The outcome of the battle for Marib could fundamentally alter the trajectory of Yemen’s wars. If the Houthis were to takeover large parts of the governorate, the Riyadh-based government of Yemeni President Abd Raboo Mansur Hadi will become more irrelevant. It is also likely that, after consolidating their gains and making new alliances, the Houthis will push on to the neighboring governorate of the Hadramawt. With Marib taken, little would be stopping them from doing this. At the same time, they and their allies will control the oil and gas facilities located in Marib.

Due to the deteriorating situation in Marib, Saudi Arabia, which backs Yemen’s Hadi government, in coordination with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is trying to open a second major front against the Houthis in and around Hodiedah. Tariq Saleh, the nephew of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, is leading this effort. Tariq Saleh, who led Yemen’s Presidential Guard before his uncle handed power to Hadi, is a capable military leader who has formed a diverse and well-paid coalition of fighters. In contrast with those forces nominally allied with the Hadi government, Saleh’s militias are consistently paid, enjoy something of a chain of command, and are well-supplied. [2]

None of this means that Saleh and those forces fighting with him will succeed in taking Houthi-held territory around Hodeidah. The terrain and internal political dynamics work against this. It is likely that Saleh and his backers, namely the UAE and Saudi Arabia, know this. However, the escalation of fighting in and around Hodiedah is increasing pressure on the Houthis at a time when they have been forced to redeploy large numbers of fighters to Marib. The Houthis also face growing financial pressure. The costs of supplying more fighters may pressure them to further “tax” Yemeni citizens and businesses. These taxes, the Houthis’ inability to pay government salaries, and human rights abuses, drive discontent in those areas they control.

The escalation of fighting in and around Hodeidah could severely impact the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Ninety percent of Yemen’s food is imported and most of this arrives via the Port of Hodeidah. While the port continues to operate, fighting outside the port and city is already disrupting distribution. The moves made by Tariq Saleh and his backers may well put additional pressure on the Houthis, but it is Yemeni civilians who will pay the price.


[1] Interview with a Yemen-based analyst, October 2020.

[2] Interview with a former Yemeni government official, October 2020.


Camp TURKSOM and Military Training Cements Turkish Ties to Somalia

John Foulkes

On October 3, a Somali National Army (SNA) convoy was ambushed in the southern province of Lower Shabelle province, resulting in a firefight that purportedly lasted several hours (Garowe Online, October 5). The convoy was escorted by ‘Gorgor’ (meaning ‘eagle’ in Somali) soldiers, elite troops who were trained by the Turkish military. Turkey has been building its ties with Somalia since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first visited the country in 2011 to offer humanitarian aid during the height of the famine there. Since then, the relationship has grown dramatically, with military ties and counterterrorism training forming a fundamental section of the Turkish-Somali relationship.

The most notable representation of these military ties is Camp TURKSOM, a 400-hectare training base Turkey paid $50 million to construct in Mogadishu. Construction took two years and the base officially opened on September 30, 2017. The camp represents Turkey’s largest overseas military base, capable of training up to 1,500 recruits at a time (Al Jazeera, October 1, 2017).

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Mehmet Yilmaz said in August that, “Turkey’s military cooperation with Somalia is of critical importance for this country. It contributes to Somalia’s security and its fight against terror.” The ambassador stated that 2,500 Somali soldiers have been trained thus far, with the training regime consisting of basic training in Camp TURKSOM followed by “commando training” in Isparta province, Turkey. Turkey projects that it will eventually train a third of the Somali military, or 5,000 soldiers of a total number of 15,000-16,000 personnel (Anadolu Agency, August 4). Yilmaz cited the decrease of 2,000 troops this year in the number of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces stationed in the country, saying that there is an immediate need for a large, well-trained national armed forces (Daily Sabah, August 4).

On August 24, Turkey donated 12 armored personnel carriers to Somalia for use by the Gorgor soldiers. The ceremony was attended by Ambassador Yilmaz, Somali Defense Minister Hassan Ali Mohamed and Somali Armed Forces Commander General Odawa Yusuf Rageh (Daily Sabah, August 28).

The first Somali troops trained by the Turkish military graduated in December 2017 (Anadolu Agency, December 23, 2017). Since then, the Turkish-trained Somali special forces have been actively engaged in the war against the al-Shabaab insurgency, taking part in operations that liberated towns occupied in Lower Shabelle, as well as counterterrorism operations in Mogadishu (Somali Affairs, October 19, 2019).

The activities of the elite Turkish-trained units in the SNA have not been without controversy, however. In February, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) deployed Gorgor troops and another Turkish-trained unit, the Haram’ad (meaning ‘cheetah’ in Somali), to the Gedo region of Jubaland, near the border with Kenya, resulting in clashes with local forces loyal to the autonomous administration of the state. The clashes reportedly displaced 50,000 civilians, and drew . Haram’ad forces also took part in fighting in the Dhuusamaareeb region of Galmudug state, located in the center of the country, against the Ahl al-Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) militia. The fighting, which took place on February 27 and 28, allegedly resulted in dozens of casualties and the surrender of the ASWJ leadership to the FGS (UNSC Report, May 15). Opposition figures accused Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known popularly as “Farmajo,” of using the Turkish-trained troops to stir internal conflict for his political advantage (Garowe Online, March 5).

These controversies within Somalia are unlikely to turn Turkey away from its continued military training programs and wide-ranging support for the FGS. Turkey’s involvement in Somalia is at least partially motivated by the country’s strategic location near the Bab al-Mandeb strait and as a byproduct of the growing rivalry between Turkey and its ally Qatar on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the other. The UAE has formed a close relationship with the autonomous state of Puntland, in Somalia’s north, training and funding the state’s maritime police force (Garowe Online, April 14, 2018). The UAE also plans on developing Berbera port in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, to the chagrin of Mogadishu who accuses Abu Dhabi of fanning internal division (see Terrorism Monitor, June 17).

Camp TURKSOM is Turkey’s largest overseas military facility, located in a strategically placed country riven by internal conflict and a long-running Islamist insurgency. Turkey’s growing influence in the country is emblematic of its recent active foreign policy, defined by rivalry with the Gulf States and an assertive pursuit of its interests. As more Somali soldiers are trained by Turkish military advisors and in Turkey itself, Ankara is likely to continue seeing its influence rise in Mogadishu.