Hadramout: Political and Military Challenges Amid Houthi Threats


Thu, 18-11-2021 03:20 PM, Aden

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

The Iran-backed Houthis look at the strategic location of Shabwa, in the middle of South Yemen's governorates, as a “warrior rest” for gaining more time so as to mobilize personal and military forces, and make expansion in the direction of Aden and Abyan in the West, as well as Hadramout and Al-Mahra in the East in light of the developments of Marib in the Northeast of Yemen.

The military and security challenges towards the Southern governorate of Hadramout have intensified as it could be a target for the Northern group, especially after the Houthi control of the three districts of Bayhan without fighting amid accusations against the local authority and the forces affiliated with the islamists of colluding with the group’s fighters.

The location of Hadramout, bordered from the Northwest by Al-Jawf and Marib, mostly controlled by the Houthis, makes it a target that deserves risk. This comes in conjunction with accusations by people against the 1ST Military District in Wadi Hadramout of bowing to the Islah authorities (the Muslim Brotherhood).

It seems that the Hadramout leaders felt the severity of the general situation and realized the importance of preparing for facing any emergency to defend Hadramout and preserve its relative stability in the governorate that has not witnessed any military battles against the Houthis since the outbreak of the war in 2015.

The Governor of Hadramout, General Faraj Al-Bohsani, who serves as the commander of the 2nd Military District said: “Hadramout will never accept the ideas of the Iranian project”, referring to the measures taken by the authority and its inspection tours in the eastern and western camps to increase readiness in anticipation of any contingent circumstances”. (1)

Al-Bohsani stressed that the “general situation in Hadramout requires the involvement of all categories of the society in the security file, as a result of the emergent political and military situation in light of the advancement made by the Houthi coup militias in some fronts, especially Marib and Shabwa”. (2)

Over the last two months, Al-Bohsani made a series of inspection tours to watch closely the readiness of the district’s brigades in anticipation for any emergency. The tours included the Shibam Brigade, “Agzar Camp” which played an important role in clearing the areas, under its protection, from the AQAP. He also visited the “Coastal Defense Brigade” located in the “Qarit Al-Fors” (the Persians’ Continent), and Al -Hamra Camp which protects the western borders of Hadramout.

Al-Bohsani indicated that “Hadramout citizens have a great deal of awareness and understanding, and they will rise up to support the army forces and protect the governorates as well as preserve its security, stability, bounties and wealth”.

The controversial District

The 1st Military District uses the city of Seiyun as an impenetrable fortress for its Northern forces consisting of 7 brigades, headed by Maj. Gen Saleh Timis, and which are directly subjected to the authority of the Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar. 

People accuse the 2nd Military District of failure to secure the areas in Wadi Hadramout from the bloody attacks and assassinations that targeted tens of the governorate’s citizens.

The assassination cases in Wadi Hadramout until 2019 exceeded 300. In spite of the spread of the First District’s forces in the entrances and exits of the valley’s areas, they didn’t declare arresting any “suspects”, and most of   those crimes’ investigations were closed under the pretext “culprit unknown”. (3)

Some Southern people and politicians blame the 1st Military District for the physical extermination operation against security men and Hadrami figures. They accuse them of hosting “Jihadist elements. (4)

Speaking to "South24", Official sources in Wadi Hadramout denied those accusations describing them as «false" and out of their authority and capabilities.

Abdulhadi Al-Tamimi, the Hadramaut Governor's Assistant of the Valley's Districts and Desert Affairs said: "the 1ST Military District is not responsible for uncovering the crime circumstances as it is not qualified for that. There are other security and intelligent bodies that are authorized to do this task." He described the matter as a kind of "political reprisals".

Al-Tamimi told "South24" that "these forces don't act on their own but receive orders according to ministerial directions. The best evidence for this is that the leadership has not so far accused   the 1ST Military District of committing any violations".

However, Al-Tamimi called for the exit of those forces from Seiyun adding that "the forces, whether belonging to the 1ST Military District or the 2nd one should not remain inside the cities. We have called for that since the establishment of the Hadramout Alliance but in vain".

For his part, Dr Mohsen Ali Nasser, the academic in the Aden University said:" Although the 1st Military District "has longstanding and organized military experience, it lacks the social and popular support, as most of its elements don't belong to the local community fabric".

He told "South24" that "the presence of those forces has been a result of the division of influence and interests among the traditional forces before the latest changes, while the emergence of the 2nd Military District followed the collapse of the military situation there and the spread of terrorism. Despite its short expertise, it enjoys a full harmony with the local community which serves as its fulcrum".

Nasser referred to the outcomes of the Riyadh Agreement which included "moving the 1ST Military District forces to Marib" but this didn't happen. He believes that their ongoing presence there aims to "protect oil so as to control Hadramout and Shabwa's wealth".

Some observers fear that the brigades of the Military District can pose a threat against the Coast of Hadramout if they ally with the Houthis in case of the latter's control on the city of Marib. There are growing concerns about repeating the same scenario of handing over the military positions to the Houthis like what happened in April 2015 when handing it over to the AQAP without any resistance, and like what happened before in Al-Jawf and Shabwa.
The social and political actors in the governorate called for the necessity of enhancing the spread and the deployment of the Hadrami Elite forces, established and trained by the UAE, and which consist of more than 5000 elements, in all areas of the governorate.

The Hadrami Forces made security achievements in combating crime and detecting "extremist" cells after playing a prominent role in liberating Mukalla in 2016 from the AQAP's grip.

The fate of Marib

Observers believe that Hadramout Governor "has been late in assessing the danger after the Houthi advancement in the Marib and Shabwa fronts. He hoped that the Houthi moves would be broken before they reached Hadramout.

Khaled Salman, the UK-based political writer, said that “both Hadramout and Shabwa have paid the price of their miscalculations when they left Marib to face its fate alone without intervention".

He added that "waiting means giving the Houthis more time to organize themselves and complete their mobilization as well as drawing plans to dominate the remaining governorates, especially the Eastern ones». (5)

In a tweet, Salman said “it is important to clear Hadramout first from Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar's forces".

The Academic, Mohsen Ali Nasser, agrees with the nature of concerns towards a "full Houthi control over Marib and Shabwa". 

However, he believes that "the active parties in South Yemen can't stand as spectators in front of this situation".

Theoretically, the Houthis appointed Luqman Baras as Hadramout Governor in April 2018 in a step that reflected the expansionist aspirations of the group towards South Yemen's areas. (6)

Demographic challenges
Along with the security and military challenges which face Hadramout, there are growing concerns about the economic and demographic repercussions related to the file of displaced persons who fled from the fighting areas to the governorate. 

The number of displaced persons in Hadramout since April 2016 till May 2019, is estimated to be 10571 males/females/children, or about 1471 families. The number of displaced families that moved to Seiyun alone exceeds 2556, as they came from several cities, controlled by the Houthis. (7)

The displaced people suffer from hard conditions after losing their houses due to the Houthi bombings which targeted their areas and villages in different Yemeni regions, depriving them of living there and doing their work.

The humanitarian organizations played a big role in hosting and rehabilitating the displaced people who reached Hadramout and helped them to engage in the labor market. 

However, people of Wadi Hadramout don't hide their fear about continuing displacement waves. They believe there are demographic change attempts behind those operational for a systematic political consideration.

STC officials in Hadramout said that some displaced persons "own more than the local residents, and became a heavy burden for them, in addition to the housing crisis, and the high costs of house rents in Wadi Hadramout". (8)

With the growing challenges in the face of Al-Bohsani's administration, especially at the economic level, in light of the price rising and the ongoing currency collapse, the military challenges made more pressure on the governorate which is a source of conflict by two military authorities in the Valley and the Coast. This stirs questions about the size of coordination to face that between the Bohsani's administration and the STC which has big popularity and influence in Hadramout. 

Journalist and editor at South24 Center for News and Studies

Photo: Members of the Al-Hamra camp, west of Mukalla, during the governor of Hadramout visit, on November 13, 2021 (official)

South YemenHadramoutShabwani Elite ForcesSTC