The STC: Legitimate Concerns and Serious Offers


Sun, 06-02-2022 05:04 PM, Aden

Ayad Qassem (Analysis file 2-6)

The latest military developments in the Southern governorate of Shabwa brought the STC back to the forefront of Yemen’s military and political scene. 

The STC was the first which sound the alarm about the expansion of the Iran-backed Houthis after they penetrated the border areas of South Yemen (in Al Bayda Governorate). It declared a state of emergency in the South starting from Sep 15th, 2021. Moreover, the STC seriously called the Saudi-led Coalition to correct the path of the "joint" battle against the Houthis "militarily, politically and at the media level.”  

The Yemeni War witnessed a tangible military and political transformation after the Houthi control of Al Bayda and Beihan's districts in Shabwa in September 2021. 

This came after the Joint Forces, based in the western coast, withdrew from their sites in the vicinity of Hodeidah City. The Southern Giants Brigades have redeployed eastward towards Taiz Governorate in the center of Yemen and also in Shabwa to match the Coalition’s new military strategy. This was in conjunction with intensified diplomatic and political meetings held by the STC’s leaders with the Coalition’s relevant parties and the Ambassadors of the Five States in the UN Security Council. 

This transformation was further clarified in late December by the visit of the Joint Forces’ Commander in the KSA to the UAE and the talks about “enhancing defense cooperation” Between the two states one week before launching the military operations in Shabwa. Furthermore, the decision to depose former Shabwa Governor Mohammed Saleh Bin Adyo, who is affiliated with the Islah Party, constituted a remarkable political development that was praised by the STC, which accuses the Yemeni Party. Of “collusion in handing over Shabwa’s districts to the Houthis.”

After the defeat of Houthis and liberating Beihan’s districts on Jan 10th, 2022, by the Southern Giants Brigades, which are close to the STC, and with the support of the Saudi-led Coalition and UAE, the STC expressed concerns about the Southern Forces’ further involvement in the depth of the Northern governorates, especially in South of Marib and Al Bayda.  

In this regard, the STC’s reservations included three main motives: The first one is that those areas don’t constitute an incubator for the STC due to political, geographical, and religious considerations. Thus, further incursion could pose a high risk for the military units. Secondly, most of the STC, founded in 2017 as a political entity, includes the Southern Movement “Hirak”s elements who call for restoring the former Southern Yemen State and always stress that their primary mission is to “protect and secure Southern territories.” Thirdly, the STC believes that the “Northern Brigades,” which are affiliated with the Yemeni Vice President, and based in Hadramout, are mainly responsible of, in light of the military morality and legal responsibility, engaging in the battles on their territories until liberating them from the Houthi control. Additionally, implementing this task was one of the main items of “the Riyadh Agreement''. 


Supporting brothers 

As the latest developments in Shabwa created a new reality and enhanced the STC’s presence in the governorate again to become currently the leading player after its loss in August 2019, The STC didn’t categorically refuse to participate in the battles led by the Coalition South of Marib and Al Bayda in North Yemen.

Its president repeatedly declared that the STC is ready to “support Northern brothers” confronting the Houthis. The Southern Giants Brigades are currently involved in clashes against the Houthis in Harib district, south of Marib and have achieved deceive victories. However, such participation in the Northern areas is likely limited to securing the Southern border areas.

The STC’s statements are based upon its “strategic partnership” With the Arab Coalition until achieving the goals of the military operation in Yemen. The STC is aware that the challenges posed by the Houthis and their expansion would threaten its current influence in the South. 

The STC considers the Houthi threats an extension to Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the region. The Houthis previously launched missile attacks that targeted the Aden International Airport, Al-Anad Air Base in Lahij, Ataq port, and civil facilities in Shabwa, where the STC lost prominent leaders affiliated with it. The extremist religious group proved that it wouldn’t hesitate to attack anyone when it could do that. However, the Houthis claim that they fight to “restore Yemen’s sovereignty” and that their rivals are mere “mercenaries.”

Previously, the Houthis refused to engage with the STC, although the latter has not explicitly invited the Houthis to any direct dialogue. However, Aidarus Al Zubaidi expressed his readiness to negotiate with whoever held control over North Yemen. Observers consider this a reference to the Houthis if they control Marib.

Recently, the STC adopted a stricter approach in its stance towards the Houthis. Al Zoubaidi called for adding the Houthis to the Terrorism List, stressing that the STC won’t negotiate with them if they are designated as “a terrorist group.”   

The Southern Forces are a source of big upset for the Houthis. They incurred heavy defeats in the Shabwa and South Marib fronts amid reports that estimated more than 3300 Houthi fatalities during 18 days of confrontations. 

However, the Houthi concerns are not limited to such casualties within their ranks as the Giants’ military progress thwarts strategic plans the Houthis have long sought to achieve as a way to improve their conditions in any incoming peace negotiations based upon fait accompli.

The Houthi revenge against Abu Dhabi was probably the way to vent the group’s anger. They explicitly linked their latest attacks against the UAE to the latter’s support of the Southern Forces in Shabwa. Such a development is related to the field context in Yemen, as the recently escalating fight in Shabwa has shifted in favor of Abu Dhabi’s allies, according to Marc Gotalier, the geostrategic consultant and the expert in Middle Water affairs.


Conflicting goals

In the midst of that, the STC emerged as a significant political and military power. Although the “Giants” are not directly affiliated with the STC, there was good coordination between the two parties during the latest battles, according to “South24” sources.

Some observers may see a conflict in some goals between the Saudi-led Arab Coalition and the STC, which seeks to establish an independent state in the South. Consequently, this matter complicates finding a solid consensus to manage the Yemeni crisis and stands as an obstacle against the Southerners’ reassurance about their political and national future. Such disputes previously led to battles in Shabwa and Abyan in the last three years.

In the Gulf arena, there is a remarkable wide disparity among the positions of the cultured elites there, between those who see that it is the STC’s right to introduce its project after completing the Coalition’s operations in Yemen and “restoring the state” and those who see that the practical solution is to support establishing a state in South Yemen, especially that there is no interest in North to confront the Houthis. Meanwhile, some Gulf people support maintaining the “Yemeni Unity.”  

The STC has long sent signals to the Northern Yemeni forces and regional and international parties, but they have not been exploited.  During an interview with the Saudi channel, Al Hadath, the STC’s President, presented his view for the Southern Yemen future. He clearly announced that he supports holding a referendum there, supervised by the United Nations. Al Zoubaidi looked balanced in presenting the STC’s military and political vision features. He previously confirmed the STC’s position that supports the peace process led by Hans Grundberg. Provided that the STC “be part and parcel in all stages.”

Accordingly, the STC’s military and political views and its repeated calls emanated from the core of the Riyadh Agreement acted as the savior to correct the path of the battles and avoid repeating the failure of the Saudi-led Coalition at both fields and political level. Correcting the path also includes the presidency, file of terrorism and security in the Red Sea, and Yemen’s entire political process.  



- A genuine lining up in the face of the Houthis can’t be achieved as long as the forces which enabled the Houthis to control Northern governorates run the political decision in the internationally-recognized government as those hopes stumble when the Coalition approaches them.

- The high-level diplomatic efforts to keep those parties, which have very close relations with the extremist groups, out of the correcting path’s track won’t achieve a practical result for “the freedom of Happy Yemen.”

- The STC should bear in mind that the future, security, and best interest of South Yemen should be the partnership criterion in return for its moral commitment towards “its partners” in the KSA and the UAE, or even towards some local Yemeni forces.

- The STC has to present a comprehensive vision of the peace process for solving the Yemeni crisis, which is not limited to stressing the importance of its participation in this process. 

Chairmann of South24 Center
- Photo: The logo of the Southern Transitional Council on one of the walls of the city of Ataq, Shabwa (Reuters)

ShabwaSouth YemenUAEAbu DhabiHouthi AttackSouthern Transitional CouncilSouthern Giants BrigadesYemen