Southern Cohesion and Counterterrorism Operations in Abyan South Yemen


    October 16, 2022

Southern Security Forces entering Al-Mahfad District in Abyan. Photo: the Security Belt

On April 6, a team from the Southern Giants Brigades' "Peace Keeping Force" arrived in Khobr Al-Maraqsha, a coastal area in Khanfar District, to mediate the release of a force loyal to Col. Mohamed Al-Oban, commander of the government-affiliated special forces in Abyan. They were besieged by STC-affiliated Security Belt forces and local tribesmen. Al-Oban forces are loyal to the Islah Party and were involved in a bloody clash in Abyan in the summer of 2020 against the Southern Transitional Council to recapture Abyan and Aden and overturn the Riyadh Agreement. The government forces were unable to enter Aden. They did, however, seize control of several districts in Abyan. The local population was vehemently opposed to the Islah forces and held numerous protests demanding that they be removed.


After a week of negotiations, the Southern Giants Brigades' mediation efforts were successful in bringing the siege to an end when the government forces and the Security Belt agreed that the special forces would withdraw from Khobr Al-Maraqsha to their base in Shuqra, east of Abyan, and only soldiers from the Marqashi tribe would remain.


The mediation team from the Southern Giants Brigades continued their work in Abyan to end the rift between the government forces and the Security Belt. Ending the conflict will allow both groups to work together to complete the Riyadh Agreement's implementation and combat the more significant threat that AQAP and the Houthi Militia pose to Abyan.


On May 28, 2022, the mediation team received a significant break. They were able to persuade Abdul Latif Al-Sayed, commander of the Security Belt, and Mohamed Al-Oban, commander of the Special Forces, to sit down and agree to unify forces and work together to combat all elements attempting to destabilize Abyan and its security. The two years of fighting between the two sides ended due to this meeting and subsequent agreement. On the other hand, the most major achievement was accomplished on June 23, 2022, when the Giants Brigades Peacekeeping Forces in Abyan, led by Ahmed Yaslam al-Marqashi, were able to successfully bring together all of Abyan's government officials as well as the heads of the Security Belt. The meeting was attended by the Governor of Abyan, General Abu Bakr Hussein Salem, and from the security forces, Brigadier General Sanad Al-Rahwa, commander of the First Brigade, Presidential Protection, Brigadier Ali Nasser Abu Mishaal Al-Kazmi, Director of Abyan Security, and Commander of Abyan Special Forces, Colonel Mohamed Al-Oban. Brigadier-General Abdul Latif Al-Sayed, commander of the Security Belt in Abyan, and Colonel Abdul Rahman Al-Shenini, leader of the Anti-Terrorism forces, represented the Security Belt. During the meeting, the Security Belt and the Abyan Security Administration established a plan to combat Al-Qaeda, which has ramped up its attacks and movement in Abyan over the course of this year. Additionally, the meeting marked the beginning of the combined security coordination process in the governorate.


Cohesion among the southern security forces in Abyan was difficult, if not impossible, due to the numerous external influences, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, which cultivated division and confusion among southerners. It took seven years of war, destruction, and betrayal on the part of the Islah Party, which abandoned its fight to liberate North Yemen from the Houthis and instead directed its forces to attack the liberated southern governorates, for southerners to realize that the North Yemeni elites who sow discord in the south are only interested in controlling the south and do not see southerners, including those in the Yemeni government, as partners. This realization contributed to bringing disparate parties together to work toward southern cohesion.


Arrows of the East Against Al-Qaeda


Abyan has been plagued by the scourge of terrorism for many years, during which time its cities and villages have been destroyed. The launch of a new counterterrorism operation, on the other hand, marks the beginning of a new chapter that, if sustained, will restore peace and stability to the governorate. Several operations have been launched in the past to liberate Abyan from Al-Qaeda control, but any gains made against Al-Qaeda are frequently reversed when the forces fighting Al-Qaeda are removed, as occurred in late 2019. The Security Belt had successfully decimated AQAP's presence in Abyan; however, all of their gains were quickly reversed when Islah Party-affiliated government forces took control of Abyan's eastern and central districts, allowing AQAP free movement and access to the camps and hideouts they had been pushed out of.

Following the successful resolution of the schism between Abyan's security forces and the Security Belt, the southern forces announced the launch of Operation "Arrow of the East" on August 23, 2022, with the stated goals of combating terrorism, eliminating the threat of the Houthi militia, strengthening Aden's and other southern governorates' security, and protecting the vital roads linking eastern and northern Yemen with Aden. Not all members of Yemen's Political Leadership Council support the operation, particularly Islah members who see "Arrow of the East" as a threat to their influence in Abyan.

The launch of the military operation to combat terrorism in Abyan was not an accident but rather a response to the increased terror attacks by al-Qaeda and Houthi cells against the southern forces and civil society.

In mid-February, AQAP militants kidnapped five United Nations employees, one of whom is a foreigner, to an unknown site in the Mudiyah district, east of Abyan; they are still holding them hostage and are demanding a hefty ransom for their release.

On March 15, multiple AQAP terrorists in an explosives-laden vehicle attacked the convoy of Brigadier General Abdul Latif al-Sayed, commander of the security belt in Abyan, east of Zinjibar, wounding and killing four soldiers. On June 22, another bloody attack on southern forces occurred when it targeted a convoy for the Abyan military axis in the Ahwar district, killing and injuring 17 southern forces members.

Following the launch of Operation Arrow of the East, al-Qaeda increased its attacks on the southern forces, viewing this as an existential battle, especially after their long-term allies from the Muslim Brotherhood, who had monopolized the legitimate government for the previous seven years, were stripped of full control of the government with the formation of the PLC.

Since the start of operation "Arrow of the East" on August 23, a joint southern security force comprised of the STC-affiliated Security Belt Forces, Abyan Axis, the Southern Counterterrorism Forces, and the Southern Resistance has taken control of major areas and camps in the districts of Khanfar, Ahwar, Lawdar, Al-Wadie, Mudiyah, and Al-Mahfad. The cost of gaining control of Abyan was high; over 70 southern soldiers were killed. 

To protect the gains made by southern security forces in fighting terrorism in Abyan and Shabwah, the Arab Coalition and the United States must continue to support and train these forces, who have repeatedly demonstrated their effectiveness against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.