- Recent fighting in southern Yemen has exposed deep divisions between southern separatists and Hadi’s government that are unlikely to be resolved peacefully.
- Despite external pressure, both sides appear unlikely to make concessions, further fuelling divisions between Hadi and separatist forces in southern Yemen.
- Both Houthi rebels and jihadist groups in southern Yemen are likely to exploit the current upheaval in the south.
On 10 August, forces from the Transitional Political Council for the South (STC), a southern separatist group, seized Aden from President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, the country’s internationally recognised leader. Since capturing Aden, the STC has attempted to widen its influence elsewhere in southern Yemen, triggering clashes with Hadi-a ligned forces in Hadramawt, Shabwa, and Abyan provinces.
Separatists have repeatedly clashed with Hadi’s government since 2017, reflecting longstanding divisions between the two allies of convenience. In 2015, Hadi, who favours a unified Yemen, was forced into an alliance with pro-independence militias in southern Yemen after much of the country’s security forces collapsed. However, their partnership has increasingly fragmented as the conflict has dragged on and their interests have diverged.
Politics within the STC, and external factors, especially the UAE’s decision to pull out of Yemen, are among the likely triggers of the latest violence.
- Death of Mashali – On 1 August, Munir al-Mashali (also known as Abu Yamamah al-Yafaei), a senior STC official and military commander, was killed in a Houthi-claimed drone and missile attack in Aden. The STC has since accused members of Islah, an Islamist group allied with Hadi, of involvement in the attack without providing evidence. Mashali’s death likely triggered competition within the STC for influence and encouraged hardliners to use his death to move ahead with existing plans to seize Aden.
- UAE drawdown – The UAE has heavily backed the STC, straining relations with other members of the anti-Houthi coalition, namely Hadi and Saudi Arabia. In July, the UAE announced it would withdraw from southern and western Yemen. This likely prompted the STC to move to exploit any post-UAE vacuum in the region.
Fighting likely to continue
The scale and intensity of recent fighting, as well as the UAE’s intervention on behalf of STC, suggests a peaceful resolution is unlikely. The spread of fighting across southern Yemen, the high number of casualties in the Aden clashes, and the ongoing build-up of forces on both sides, distinguish the latest bout of violence from earlier skirmishes between the two sides.
Saudi orchestrated talks to resolve the conflict appear to have stalled, meaning further violence is likely. Reuters reported the talks have reached a deadlock over the separatists demands for control of the vice-presidency and two key ministries. Yemen’s government has said the STC&rsqu o;s demands would mean legitimising an insurrection if accepted.
Opposing interests of key players also further complicate events. Saudi Arabia is likely eager to avoid a new civil war in southern Yemen or permanent rupture with the UAE, but the STC is unlikely to hand over captured territory or reverse its expansionist agenda. The group retains Emirati backing and southern separatists have waged a decades long struggle for independence. Although the STC continues to recognise the Hadi government, it aims to eventually restore the formerly independent state in southern Yemen, complicating any negotiations.
As reflected in its recent demands, the STC is manoeuvring to ensure its influence and interest s are protected in any post-conflict settlement. Separatists have also reportedly held talks with Houthi forces, underscoring the potential for Yemen to fragment into multiple spheres of influence. For its part, the Hadi government has shown no signs of backing down and has likely been emboldened by recent support from Saudi Arabia and its recent battlefield successes against STC militias in Shabwa and Abyan.
Houthis to benefit from instability in southern Yeme
The Houthis are likely to benefit from the collapse of the anti-Houthi alliance. Saudi Arabia has called on Hadi and the STC to cease fighting and focus on the Iran-aligned rebels, but the war against the Houthis has already stalled and settled into a military stalemate. In 2019, Houthi rebels have intensified their cross-border atta cks on Saudi Arabia, demonstrating the lack of progress in the four-year old war.
The Houthis could attempt to exploit the recent fighting by targeting the Southern Giants Brigade, a UAE-backed force in western Yemen near the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Pro-Hadi government forces have been redeployed from fighting against the Houthis to southern Yemen, which could leave them more exposed to Houthi attacks.
The Houthis may also benefit if the fighting in southern Yemen increases pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen. The UAE withdrawal leaves Saudi Arabia isolated in Yemen and in early September, the US, Saudi Arabia’s most important ally, confirmed it had begun direct talks with the Houthis to end the conflict.
Al-Qaeda, IS also likely to gain
Jihadist groups are also likely to exploit the recent instability in southern Yemen. In August, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed at least five attacks in Aden, its first in more than 15 months. The recent fighting has provided an incentive for the group, which has largely focused on al-Bayda in southern Yemen, to resume activity in Aden.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen’s most powerful jihadist group, is also poised to benefit from recent instability in southern Yemen. Since 2016, AQAP has been weakened by a UAE-led, US-backed counter-terrorism campaign but these gains are at risk if the current divisions result in a security vacuum that the group can exploit.
PGI’s Intelligence specialists provide business intelligence and geopolitical risk analysis to multinational corporations and governments worldwide. For more information on how they can assist your organisation, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your free global geopolitical
PGI’s Risk Portal tool provides daily intelligence feeds, country threat assessments and analytical insights, enabling clients to track, understand and navigate geopolitical threats.
The Risk Portal gives users up-to-date information and analysis on global affairs.
The Risk Portal allows users to visualise information in a unique and instantly understandable way. Mapping filters enable the visualisation of incidents by threat category, time period, perpetrator and target type.
Risk Portal users can upgrade their accounts to include the Report Builder and Country Profile Generator features. The Report Builder allows users to select information, data and images from the Risk Portal and create bespoke reports and emails.
Subscribers to PGI’s Bespoke services receive tailored analysis on specific sectors and geographies of interest, delivered at a frequency they determine.
Making ongoing compliance easier for you and your business
GDPR is now in force. Make sure your business meets the necessary requirements, providing assurance for all of your customers and employees.
A full audit of your business to assess the level of your compliance against GDPR requirements.
Become GDPR compliant with minimal work. We will conduct an analysis, review, report and implement any necessary changes to your business.
We will conduct simple security assessments to help you understand and mitigate the potential risks to your business.
Get your business ready to face the cyber challenge.
We provide a full range of accredited, certified and bespoke services that assess the resilience of your cyber security posture.
PGI’s Qualified Security Assessors (QSA) will help you meet Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
Find out more on PCI DSS
Demonstrate your commitment to cyber security by achieving and maintaining accreditation for the globally-recognised information security standard.
Find out more on ISO 27001
Understand the threats of phishing and malware to avoid being targeted.
Undertake our phishing vulnerability assessment to reduce your organisation’s risk of attack, by measuring the cyber awareness of your workforce.
PGI will conduct a tailored phishing campaign, using multiple methods, to identify realism and train employees where necessary to mitigate future attacks.
PGI monitor multiple metrics to identify the types of phishing, generate in-depth analytical reports and provide an informed decision to help improve your organisation’s level of security and awareness.
Prevent attacks, respond to breaches and protect your business.
Our bespoke range of cyber security services not only protect your critical assets but provide the education you need to keep your operations and data safe.
Implement this cost-effective cyber security measure launched by the government to prevent cyber-attacks, demonstrate information security commitment to your clients, and attract new business by being recognised as a secure organisation.
Find out more on Cyber Essentials Accreditation
The most effective way to identify how attackers target your organisation’s weaknesses is by evaluating your system, your network security, and reporting on any vulnerabilities that could have an impact on your business.
Find out more on Penetration Testing
If your business has experienced breaches, network compromises or operational disruption, our team of cyber security specialists can deploy quickly, and will begin the process of detecting and eliminating the threat efficiently.
Find out more on Data Breach Response & Recovery
Data Breach Response & Recovery
We prevent attacks, respond to security breaches, and protect your business
Our team of specialists can deploy quickly and efficiently to begin the process of detecting, eliminating and preventing future threats of a breach.
A vital part of the response process is making a copy of your data for safe forensic analysis. We will work with you to preserve and use this evidence to discover the extent of an intrusion.
Find out more on Digital Forensics
We will identify and minimise the risks, as well as the possibility of future risks to your business.
Consistent interaction with your management team and recommendations on how to approach all outcomes that need attention.
Subscribe to our Cyber Bytes Newsletter
Keep yourself in the loop with PGI by signing up to our Monthly Cyber Bytes email. You will receive updates, tips and narrative around what has been happening in the world of information security.