The Southern Armed Forces: Strategic Importance and Existent Challenges


Sun, 12-09-2021 01:07 PM, Aden

Bader Mohammed (South24) 

The Southern Forces' control on South Yemen is a natural outcome of the will of the national powers there. However, generally , it is relevant to the concurrent regression of the major powers' role, while the local communities assume the responsibility of self determination.

Away from the roots of this historical and political will, and their close connection with "the Southern Revolution" against what Southerners esteem as " Northern occupation of South in 1994", the existence of such national factors have much contributed in the formation of the Southern Forces and their engagement with the Arab Coalition, led by the KSA, against attempts by the Houthis and militant organizations to control South Yemen. This shows the difference between the success of the international efforts in South Yemen and their failure in North, the bastion of the Houthis. The partnership, based firstly upon the will of national power, and the regional and the international will, afterwards, is superior in solving the Yemeni crisis, and maintaining international security and peace. Consequently, the Southern Forces had to be established under national and scientific basis in light of the military operations scene and the several combatting fronts in the Yemeni conflict.

The formations of the Armed Southern Forces

According to latest estimates, the Southern Armed Forces have more than 90,000 soldiers, distributed over several military and security units, prominent of which are “the Backup and Support” Brigades, which were established in May 2015 before the Aden Liberation War against the Houthis, the Hadhrami Elite Forces, that were formed before the war to liberate Al Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut, from the AQAP’s control in April 2016 and the Shabwani Elite Forces, which played a prominent role in liberating Shabwa from the radical groups in 2018-19; the Security Belts, which played a prominent role in driving the AQAP’s cells out of Al Mansoura District , Aden in 2016, and out of Abyan and Lahj in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, there are Giants Brigades which participated in the war to liberate the Western Coast from the Houthi grip in Al Hodeidah and Mocha in 2018. Moreover, units, affiliated with the Yemeni Security Department and Army joined the Southern Armed Forces, such as the Special Forces, the Fifth Infantry Brigade, the 33rd Armored Brigade and Al-Anad Base Brigade, in light of the conflict that erupted in August 2019 in Aden between the Yemeni Government and the STC

At the beginning of June, to enhance the presence of these forces, the STC’s President and the Supreme Commander of the Southern Armed Forces, General Aidarus Al Zubaidi restructured and reorganized the Southern Forces in a way that suited the nature of their defensive and security tasks.

Nevertheless, there are some views that see a lack of unity regarding the operations of the Southern Armed Forces, and that their direct subordination to the STC is somewhat absent, due to a dominant belief that the will of some of those forces is subjected to the political estimation dynamics and complicated calculations, by being part of regional and international partnership.

However, looking at the nature of political and military circumstances, on which the Southern Forces were formed, it sounds quite different, as there is a consensus among the Southerners to establish their political federal entity, so as to build and form their military and security establishment upon bases that enhance the integrity principle, where everyone needs everyone in the face of the Houthis and the extremist organizations’ attacks. This makes a connection between the political calculations and the parties dissident from the Southern, regional and international consensus.

Consequently, there are several blazing fronts against the Houthis along the southern borders with North Yemen, including: Al Dhalea, the Karsh, the Tur Al Baha, Mukayris, Yafa and the Nati front towards Shabwa, where it appears that each front depends on local elements, who are likely from the same southern region. However, the unity of danger and destiny, and the need of everyone to everyone would strengthen the unity of the Southern Armed Forces, and help their field and structural cohesion.

The Strategic importance of the Southern Forces

South Yemen is located at the international navigation line, from the side of the Gulf of Aden and Bab Al Mandab, the lane connecting the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea, or east with west, through which 40% of world trade passes. Therefore, the international community needs to ensure the security and stability of this vital passageway and important geographical area. 

Moreover, the consequences of the Yemeni crisis, with its local and regional actors deepen the regional and world fears towards the extremist groups and organizations’ control on South Yemen and the damage emanating from this on international peace and security. This gives strategic importance for the Southern Force’ empowerment and control to help stability and avoid falling into chaos and fighting. Therefore, it is urgent to refer to the importance of regional and international partnership with the political and military leadership in South Yemen, and to strengthen their fighting capabilities in a way that suits the nature of its defensive and security tasks, based upon the axiom of the international reliance on the national forces for achieving self determination for their countries first, and establishing the principle of partnership afterwards.

Military expert, Brigadier Thabet Hassan Saleh, told “South24” that: “all countries, whether small or big, rich or poor, are eager to build their armed forces to assume the responsibility of protecting their security and stability, as well as defend their sovereignty and national interests. The importance of the armed forces increases in the poorly developed countries on the economic, cultural and scientific levels. It reaches its peak in the states that have been, and are still subjected to the greed of external regional or international forces”.

As a result, according to Saleh, “South Yemen today needs more than ever to have armed forces relying on modern national and scientific bases. It can be said that this task imposes itself as priority number1”.

Capabilities and qualifications

The Southern Armed Forces proved their superiority in all direct confrontations against the Houthis, from the Western Coast front towards Al Hudaydah and to the Yafa front towards Al Baida. On the other hand, the Houthis are superior in indirect military operations, through offensive systems with ballistic missiles and drones. The Houthis carried out many sudden and quick ballistic attacks that caused security, military and political damage to the Southern Forces; the most recent of which was the attack that targeted Al Anad Military Base on August 29 with drones and missiles.

This shows a disparity in the combative capabilities between the two strong forces, as well as the difference in their combative doctrine as the Southern Forces adopt a national doctrines, emanated from defending South and restoring their former State that existed before the political unity with North in 1990. In contrast, the Houthis have a religious doctrine derived from Shiite thought. Additionally, there is hostility between the Southern Forces and extremist groups.

In light of the superiority of the Southern Forces in the ground confrontations against the Houthis who are superior in the air operations, the disparity of combative capabilities is related to the armament aspect rather than the human element. This justifies to what extent the Iranian weapons represent one of the most important points of strength for the Houthis, in addition to its tremendous impact on the geopolitical and security fields. 

Currently, the threats that would face the Southern Forces are still existent, through the Forces and Units, affiliated with the Yemeni government, at those controlled by the Islamists in Yemen, as the two parties entered into direct confrontations several times in Aden, Abyan and Shabwa.


The Islamic groups and the “terrorist” organizations obviously rely on the strategy of the geopolitical and security threat, as shown in the increase of the Houthi missile and ballistic capabilities. Consequently, the Southern Forces have to enhance their security and intelligence system in the first place and raise the efficiency of its defense system afterwards.

- The military decision making’s connection with the dynamics of the political estimation, in a period that related to the efforts of unifying the front against the Houthis and completing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, proved to be futile. Therefore, the Military decision making process requires taking into considerations the national and security estimations.

- Because there is a world tendency to let the national powers face their own destiny by themselves, and in light of the strategic importance represented by South Yemen, as well as the security threat by the Islamic groups and organizations on the global security and peace, the international community has to support the Southern Armed Forces, and enhance their defensive and security capabilities as well as backing their national political choices. 

Resident fellow with South24 Center for News and Studies.
Photo: Official

South YemenHouthiAQAPIranHadiBab elMandabTerrorism