A «Historic Moment» in Shabwa


Thu, 13-01-2022 10:12 PM, Aden

Editorial (South24)

Over the last two years, people have reached a point of full despair about the possibility of achieving any field victory against the Iran-backed Houthi militias who found the “perfect opportunity” for expansion within vast areas in the country. Breaking and defeating the Houthis as well as liberating large areas from their hands have not ever occurred without a decisive field role by the Forces backed by the UAE and the STC in South Yemen. 

The military victories achieved by the “Southern Giant Brigades” in Shabwa pushed Turki Al-Maliki, the Spokesperson of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, to travel to the city of Ataq and hold a press conference to seize the valuable opportunity and celebrate those “historic moments”.

This came hours after the Southern Brigades’ declaration about “the end of the third stage of operation (South Tornado) and liberating all Shabwa districts in just 10 days” after they previously fell into the Houthi grip in no time.

The reasons behind that are not attributed to the depression and despair emanated from the frequent defeats incurred by the forces affiliated with the internationally-recognized government and their failure to achieve deceive field victories over seven years of war, nor because the Houthis own super military equipment. It is mainly related to the way the Saudi-led Coalition manages the military operations in Yemen, especially after the UAE withdrew most of its troops from Yemen in October 2019. 

Riyadh relied upon internal Yemeni tools from the political parties, local tribes and traditional forces that proved later to have close and overlapping relationships with the Houthis at several levels for geographical, social and political considerations. Their motives regarding confronting the Houthis don’t intersect with Saudi ambitions which seek to end the threats posed by Iranian influence in its Southern borders and to exit the War with the minimum costs. 


So, how can this clear disparity in the military results between South and North be explained? And why do the Southern Forces, whether affiliated with the STC or close to it, achieve progress in their operations? And why did the Houthis fail to advance in the areas under the control of these forces, whether in South Yemen or the Western Coast? Is this attributed to mere military and fighting considerations? Are there other reasons which were intentionally omitted from the political and media calculations? 

Although some military experts refer to the good training received by the Southern Giant Brigades as well as the experience they gained through Yemen’s Western Coast battles, it is worth noting that those Forces strengthened their geographical and political ties with the “Southern identity”. Previously, during the era of the peaceful movement “Hirak”, this Southern identity turned into a precious national flag that fed Southern People with a high spirit of sacrifice and redemption for their desired homeland and they became ready to defend every inch of its territories. Ultimately, the Giants Brigades found nothing wrong in raising the flags of the former South Yemen state over the military vehicles and territories under their control. They dubbed the latest military operation in Shabwa as “South Tornado”. Their short statement about completing the liberation operation ended with the highly significant phrase “we don’t deserve a homeland if we don’t defend it”. 

The leadership of the Giants Brigades, which has a Salafi background, probably wanted to prevent exploiting their military victories to serve the interests of certain Yemeni parties, especially the islamic Islah Party which controls the Yemeni Army Forces affiliated with the government and which leads the incitement campaigns in the name of “Yemeni Unity”.  

Since 2015, the Islah party used to forcefully insert itself to share the honour related to sacrifices and victories although it played no role in achieving this. It has sought to strip them of their true owners. Moreover, the Giants Brigades want to raise the spirits of their fighters, most of whom belong to the Southern Hirak, and to appreciate them in a way that helped them to remain stable in the field at times of confrontation. 

Although the Giants Brigades receive direct support from the UAE and are not institutionally affiliated with the STC, sources exclusively told “South 24” that there is “constant coordination between them which is likely to increase in the near future for strategic and practical reasons”. 


On the other hand, the Giants Brigades face difficult challenges, particularly after Turki Al-Maliki’s statements, during the press conference in Shabwa, that these Brigades have been structured in the Yemeni Defense Ministry. It seems that the Saudi-led Coalition has ambitions for these forces to play a role related to fighting in North Yemen. This justifies the confident tone during Al-Maliki’s announcement of Operation “Freedom of Happy Yemen” on the same day the Giants Brigades declared control of large areas in the Harib District, south of Marib on the border with Shabwa. 

In light of these accelerating and overlapping developments, there is a question which needs a practical answer:  How can these Forces continue to fight alone in North while the official Army Forces  affiliated with the Yemeni Vice President and which are based in Hadramout “are not subjected to the Coalition” and the decision to participate in fighting the Houthis is controlled by “the Defence Ministry,” according to Al-Maliki. 

Despite the growing strong Southern rejection for the involvement of the Southern Forces in any unsafe operations that act as an attrition war against the Houthis in North Yemen, The STC’S President, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, didn’t refuse or accept the Southern Forces’ involvement in fighting outside the borders of the south.

During an interview on the eve of the Shabwa Victory, Al-Zubaidi’s diplomatic response to a question asked by the Sky News reflected a high degree of concerns and precautions as well as the need to change the confrontation strategy against the Houthis. He said that the decision to expand fighting beyond Bayhan is into the Coalition’s hands. However, he showed the STC’s readiness to “support brothers in North”. 

There are fears that the Southern sacrifices in North Yemen could be wasted in vain, and to repeat the previous mistakes which only contributed in producing a political and military system for the traditional dominating powers inside the government which systematically sought to completely deviate the path of war towards South. They also have been implicated in prolonging the war in Yemen and duplicating the suffering of the people there.

The Southerners adhere, to a large extent, to their national project, or the so-called "Southern Issue". The STC adopts these demands. Southerners believe that the Saudi-led Coalition will ultimately support their political ambitions and back the establishment of a new state in South Yemen.

Obviously, Turki Al-Maliki celebrated the victory achieved in Shabwa and the same applies to the STC and even the Yemeni parties which previously fought it and tried to break into Aden twice in August 2019 and May 2020. Probably, for that reason, Al-Maliki said that “Shabwa unified the Yemenis with all their political components” Is this true?

Confidence was not the only missing ring in order to overcome the Houthis but also the absence of the right mechanism which the Coalition had to adopt earlier. Moreover, there have been attempts to separate the reading of the political and military reality in South Yemen from the nature of the Coalition’s interference goals. The negligence of the roots of the issues directly impacts the future path of the crisis and its offsprings as well as duplicating its ramifications and vice versa.

- Photo: Military vehicles of the Southern Giants Brigades, heading to Shabwa on December 27, 2021. Above the vehicles can be seen the flags of  South Yemen (Giants Flags)

South YemenSTCIslahHadiConflictHouthisShabwaFree Yemen