Assessment of the Arab Coalition Performance in South Yemen


Wed, 16-03-2022 04:51 PM, Aden

Dr. Eman Zahran (South24)

On Jan11th, the Arab Coalition spokesman announced the start of the military operation "Freedom of Happy Yemen" (Huriyat Al-Yemen Al-Saeed) to achieve development and prosperity for Yemen. This coincided with military victories in South Yemen achieved by the “Southern Giant Brigades" which fully liberated all districts of Shabwa.

This raises a number of questions about the Coalition map in Yemen, the dimensions of various engagements with the Southern forces since the declaration of the "Decisive Storm" (Asifat Al-Hazm) operation on March 26th 2015, the subsequent announcement of the "Restoration of Hope" (Eadit Al-Amal) Operation on April 21st 2015 and the qualitative indicators and the different scenarios behind the Coalition new beginning. This could be illustrated in the following points:

Firstly: The goals behind the establishment of the Arab Coalition:

The decision to intervene in the war in Yemen was not random. The intervention of the military regional forces was not a goal in itself but a strategic necessity imposed by specific changes related to the developments of the internal scene in Yemen. Thus, the establishment of the Saudi-led Coalition which consists of several Arab countries was declared. Later, they launched the "Decisive Storm” operation with the participation of jet fighters from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. In June 2017, Qatar was dismissed from the Coalition. Somalia opened its air space, territorial waters and military bases to be used by the Arab Coalition in the operations. The US delivered logistical support to the operations and sold weapons to the Coalition's states. The US and Britain deployed military personnel within the Command and Control Center which is in charge of launching  airstrikes in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia. KSA asked Pakistan for joining the Coalition but the Pakistani Parliament voted for maintaining neutrality. Pakistan delivered military ships to help the Coalition to impose arms embargo against the Houthis. [1]

On March 25th 2015, the Coalition delivered the first airstrikes against the Houthis as part of the “Decisive Storm" operation to achieve a number of goals including protecting the Arab national security from the Iranian intervention in Yemen as well as responding to the internationally-recognized government's request after the Houthis’ coup against the internationally-backed agreed upon Yemeni political path. Additionally, there are a number of geopolitical purposes behind the Arab Coalition's activities including:

1- The return and the protection of the internationally-recognized Yemeni government.
2- Destroying aerial bases, the operation command and communication centers of the Houthis. 
3- Destroying the ballistic missiles and the heavy weapons owned by the Houthis and Ali Saleh's affiliates.
4- Confronting the terrorist organizations which control some Yemeni areas especially after speaking about the return of the AQAP and reshaping its arms.
5- Putting an end to threats against the security of the KSA and other GCC's neighboring states.

Noteworthy that after the end of "Decisive Storm" and the achievement of its goals, the "Restoration of Hope" operation was announced which referred to the resumption of the political process, facilitating the  evacuation of foreign citizens, the expansion of aid and medical support for those affected and opening the space for the international efforts to deliver humanitarian help. This was followed by the declaration of the "Golden Arrow" operation with the participation of Southern forces along with maritime and aerial cover by Saudi and UAE forces. The forces entered by sea, backed by hundreds of armored vehicles and tanks provided by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The operation succeeded in driving the Houthis out of Aden and large parts of the Southern governorates of Lahj, Dhalea, Shabwa and Abyan. Those forces stopped at the borders of Taiz and Al-Bayda governorates. Other forces which came from the KSA made progress in North Yemen and regained control over large parts of Marib and Al-Jawf.

Secondly: The developments of South Yemen scene (2015-2021)

This point is related to the total political and field developments from 2015 to 2022 given the following coordination and interactions:

1- The political scene developments: 

There are a number of features related to the general context of the political operation in South which in turn shaped the developments of the scene as follows:

Firstly: Related to the growing radicalism in the political polarization circles in South which specifically vary in a way that negatively impacts the whole historical and cultural consensus.

Secondly: The size of change in the power balance and the impact of the field adaptation flexibility on building variable assumptions for the parties engaged in the political operation. This is related to possibilities that each of them could resolve the file in the field by itself weakening the assumption of negotiation about achieving the requirements of political settlement. This applies to the negotiating stance of the Houthi group.

Thirdly: the erosion of confidence in the Yemeni street as the “Yemeni citizen” no longer counts on a central government and does not build big hopes upon the different international and regional  paths of the political operation. Furthermore, the criterion of the “political leader” no longer has popular consensus among allies even if he enjoys international support. 

Given the former three points, there are a number of political observations [2] upon which the development in the general political scene in South Yemen have been built since the establishment of the Arab Coalition till the end of 2021:



General stance

April 2017

The formation of the STC

Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi dismissed Aden Governor Aidrous Al-Zubaidi and Minister of State Hani Bin Brek.

The decision stirred angry reactions in South, as thousands of protestors demonstrated in Aden against the Hadi Government.

On May 11st, Al-Zubaidi announced the establishment of the STC by his lead aiming to manage Southern governorates.

January 2018

Besieging the Presidential headquarters

In mid- January, the STC gave President Hadi a one week ultimatum to make governmental changes and to depose Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Daghr because they accuse him of corruption.

By the end of the ultimatum, separatists controlled the government’s headquarters in Aden after clashes with governmental forces. On the 30th of the same month, the separatist forces controlled the biggest areas of Aden and besieged the Presidential palace. They only lift the siege after mediation.

The following day, those forces deployed in Aden three days after the battles that led to scores of casualties.


August 2019

Aden events

Clashes between the UAE- backed “Security Belt”and forces affiliated with the government broke out. They besieged the Presidential Palace in Aden and seized control on 3 barracks 4 days later. This was followed by a number of different events.

November 2019

The Riyadh Agreement

The agreement stipulated that the STC holds a number of ministries in the Yemeni government which in return comes back to the temporary capital, Aden.

July 2020

Giving up autonomy

On July 29th 2020, the STC announced giving up autonomy in South Yemen to pave the way for the Saudi-led Coalition to implement the Riyadh Agreement.

June 2021

Suspending the Riyadh Agreement consultations

On June 26th, the STC gave instructions to its negotiators in Riyadh to withdraw and suspend all forms of contract with the other party in the talks about completing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. This came after continuing terrorism and intimidation policies against the governorate’s citizens by the pro-Islah forces who occupied Shabwa.

August 2021

Southern Dialogue from Cairo

On Aug.15th, the Inter-Southern Dialogue in Cairo kicked off. The Dialogue which was launched by the STC aimed at creating common ground among all Southern parties without exception. Many Southern political figures and forces positively reacted with the Dialogue invitations. 

September 2021

The speech delivered by the 4th UN Envoy in front of the UNSC.

In his brief in the UNSC, Hans Grundberg Said: “Peace in Yemen will not be sustained in the long term if Southern voices do not play a part in shaping it responsibly.”

December 2021 

The Giants’ move to Shabwa


On Dec. 27th, the Giants Brigades announced moving military brigades from Yemen’s western coast to the Southern governorate of Shabwa. The Giants attributed this decision to contributing in freeing Shabwa which fell into the Houthi hands.

Jan. 2022

“South Tornado”(Isaar Al Janoub” Operation

The Southern Giants Brigades announced completing the full Freedom Shabwa after freeing the Ain District, the last Houthi bastion in the oil-rich governorate as part of  “South Tornado” (Isaar Al-Janoub) operation. Thus, it constituted one of the most important strategic shifts in the Southern scene.

It is worth mentioning that there are a number of pilings that push for the positioning of the STC and the heaviness of the "Southern Paper" in all political paths. This is based upon some props and points of strength including:

The grassroot incubator: By taking into account what is known as the "legitimacy" of the comprehensive geographical representation of the Southerners and adopting the Southern issue. Additionally, the STC considers itself the representative of the majority of Southerners as it enjoys a wide scale grassroot popularity it has long used for displaying its strength especially in the establishment era when it organized a number of popular events to prove that it has a strong grassroot incubator which hard to be overlooked.

- The military formations and security forces [3]: The STC has variable numbers of armed forces and formations which are adapted to secure areas under their control. The most prominent among those forces include: "The Security Belt Forces, 1st Infantry Brigade in Al-Hadid mountain, the Commandos 15 Brigade, the Resistance Brigades, Storm Force, the Aden Security and Counter-terrorism Forces, the Shabwani and Hadrami Elite Forces, some units affiliated with the 4th Military District including Al-Anad Axis, Al-Dhale Axis, and some units of the Southern Giants Brigades.

- Exploiting soft power tools: This point is based upon a number of cards, first: Enjoying the support and finance required for inducing the influential and attractive figures as well as organizing different meetings, visits and activities by which the STC presents itself as a de-facto authority. Second: The employment of visible media outlets such as Aden Independent Channel (AIC), and audio tools such as the Local Radio, in addition to social media outlets. Moreover, the STC has a media national authority which includes media figures trusted by the STC prominent officials. Furthermore, Southern forces established a number of union entities and trade associations in different fields and vital sectors to unify the notions as well as political and security agenda regarding the Southern issue.

- Exploiting foreign moves: This has been achieved by employing members representing the STC in a number of states to introduce the STC's agenda and the Southern issue. The "foreign relations" and how to employ them well is one of the most successive tools in spreading ideas and harnessing regional and international support for the issue.

Field developments: 

There are a number of field developments of the Yemeni file in general and the Southern issue in particular. The most important of them are those related to the size of military moves during the latest months since 2021 regarding the Houthi moves in the governorates of Marib and Shabwa. On the other hand, the Coalition forces repositioned themselves and the 'Southern Giants Brigades" activated the "Counterfeit Deterrence” moves by moving from Hodeidah to Shabwa in December 2021 to liberate the districts of Beihan, Usaylan, and Ain from the Houthis as well as other forces such as "Shabwa Defense Force". This was concluded by declaring the success of "South Tornado" operation and the flexible move towards announcing launching the "Freedom of Happy Yemen" operation.

Thirdly: The dimensions and motives behind the “Freedom of Happy Yemen" Operation.

Launching the “Freedom of Happy Yemen" operation added many qualitative dimensions, first of which is related to the Saudi-led Arab Coalition's repositioning after its activities declined since 2018 and the announcement of the Stockholm Agreement.  Furthermore, there are a number of dimensions and motives:

Local dimensions and motives: 

There are some local dimensions and motives, upon which the Arab Coalition was based to begin moving towards achieving all requirements of the “Freedom of Happy Yemen '' operation. The most prominent among them can be illustrated as follows:

1- The Houthi dodging practices towards all political coordination efforts such as ending all regional and international initiatives which aimed  at stopping the war and starting the path of political settlement. For example, the Houthis refused the Saudi Initiative which included four trajectories that match with the aspirations of the international community and different international moves regarding the Yemeni issues including a comprehensive cease-fire, reopening the Sanaa International Airport, importing the oil derivatives through Hodeidah sea port according to the Stockholm Agreement and the possibility of beginning direct political consultations towards ending the existing crisis.

2- The change in the Houthi strategic regionally. This indicator is built upon the latest Houthi escalation outside Yemen and targeting the Coalition in their territories. They do that by accelerating their missile attacks against the KSA and the UAE. For example, 2021 witnesses a rise in the Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia in comparison with last year. Thus, during the first 9 years of the year, they launched 702 attacks, which mean 79 attacks per month while the rate was 38 attacks per month in 2020. Moreover, the Houthis launched recent attacks against the UAE in Jan 2022. [4]

3- The depletion of Houthi forces: This is related to the field strategy of the Houthis who fighted since 2014 using the "constant attack" methods as well as the "numerical density" tactic, where hundreds launch a sudden attack as one batch to put their rivals under pressure. Consequently, over seven years, the Houthis consumed most of their trained forces. The remnants of those forces don't enjoy the military experience. For example, since the first quarter of 2021, the Houthis depleted their forces in the Marib battles. Most of the armored vehicles and tanks that were used were destroyed, as well as the killing of thousands of fighters who were pushed to control the city of Marib, the epicenter of the army’s military operations against the Houthis since 2015. In addition to the depletion of the group’s financial resources. 

Regional dimensions and motives:

The regional motives are summarized in regard with the conduct of the regional actors of the Yemeni issue as follows:

1- The change in UAE attitude: Although the UAE declared in 2019 its withdrawal from the "Yemeni war" and the return of its joint Coalition forces, except for keeping a small inactive unit on the ground in the ongoing field conflict against the Houthis, the UAE-Saudi coordination escalated recently to besiege the Houthis and force them to achieve the political settlement moves. This emerged in the Coalition' coordination arrangements in Shabwa and the contribution in undermining the Houthi moves towards Marib.

2- The change in the Omani attitude: There is a qualitative change in the foreign policy management of the Sultanate of Oman, with Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said assuming the rule of the state in 2020, succeeding the late Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. Thus, he redrew the Omani foreign moves and the flexible shift from "the unilateral policy" to "the direct engagement" in the regional files which have security dimensions. For example, in 2021, Muscat sent its negotiators to Sanaa, as well as made direct contacts with Houthi leaders to urge them to accept the international and Saudi initiatives, the ''Riyadh Agreement". [5]

Despite the Houthis' rejection of the Omani vision of the peace settlement process, it is a step towards direct engagement, as it has not been done before since 2015 and the announcement of the formation of the Arab Coalition.

International dimensions and motives:

This point is based upon the rate of changes in the regional actors' visions for a solution of the Yemeni issue, and there reassessment to the parties involved in the political and field operation in the conflict scene as illustrated below:

1- The change in the US attitude: There is a change in the American attitude towards the Yemeni issue after Democratic President Joe Biden took office. He expressed his intention to end the conflict in Yemen. This was accompanied by a number of executive decisions [6], most notably is ending his country's military and intelligence support, removing the Houthi group from the "Terrorist List", appointing the US Diplomat “Lenderking” as a Special Envoy to Yemen. He, along with the third UN Envoy, “Martin Griffiths,” and then the fourth Envoy “Hans Grundberg”  delivered initiatives to end the conflict. However, all of them were rejected by the Houthis.

Noteworthy, there are a number of vital scenes that show the change in the US conduct towards the Yemeni file and the parties involved in the conflict, most notably are: restoring US arms deals to Saudi Arabia such as the agreed-upon air-to-air missiles deal. Moreover, the US delivered intelligence support to Saudi Arabia to prevent the Houthis from arriving at Marib as well as providing the KSA with a new bank of targets to target the Houthi arms depots, ballistic missile and drone launch areas [8] .Washington also supported the internationally-recognized Yemeni government against the Houthis.

2- The change in international attitude: This assumption is related to the results of the international community’s test for the different  negotiation trajectories of the Yemeni issue and all political, regional and security initiatives to build the requirements for ending this conflict without achieving any notable progress. This is due to a number of considerations which were monitored and agreed upon at the international level. This includes the Houthi rejection for all “peace initiatives” at the regional and international levels, the Houthis’ rejection to receive the new UN Envoy Hans Grundberg in Sanaa, the Houthis’ escalation for the war in Marib despite the international and humanitarian call to end the war, especially that the Houthi control on Marin increases the complexity of the Yemeni war.

Fourthly: Existing messages

The announcement of the “Freedom of Happy Yemen” was accompanied by a number of scenes which paved the way to re-coordinate between the political and military roles between the Coalition and the Southern forces given the following symbolic indicators:

- The announcement of the “Freedom of Happy Yemen” was in conjunction with the field and military escalation in the governorates of Shabwa and Marib in favor of the Southerners in a message towards repositioning starting from the South. 

- The declaration of “the new operation” was in conjunction with the victories achieved by the Coalition-backed “Southern Giants Brigades” against the Houthis. This denotes the reliance upon the Southern military composition towards moving to achieve the requirements of the “developmental operation”.

- The internal messages of The “language of discourse” delivered by the Arab Coalition’s spokesman Turki Al-Maliki who stressed the importance of renouncing “The “politics of disintegration/fragmentation” [9], strengthening the “national unity” and “involving all Yemeni parties” in facing the various threats of the Houthi group and its foreign agendas.

Finally, it is difficult to predict the trajectory and the future of the new operation the “Freedom of Happy Yemen” or talking about the possible consequences of the political and military arrangements in this regard. However, it is likely that the new operation will be managed in the frame of the traditional pattern according to seven years experience of the conflict in a way that guarantees the achievement of the hoped general goals and the broad lines “political and humanitarian developmental”. The decisive bet in this issue will remain the possibility to neutralize the divisions in return of unifying efforts based upon a common agenda that aims to prevail peace. 

Photo: The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, meets the President of the STC Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, in Riyadh, November 5, 2019 

[2] The table is based on a number of references including:
- The STC
- The historic Aden Declaration, the STC Official website 
- Ain News: The text of the "Riyadh Agreement" on Yemen, Ain News.
- Yemen Annual Report (2021): Crisis-loaded Stations and Unprecedented Events.
- The brief delivered in the UNSC by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, the Office of the UN Envoy.
- Liberating Shabwa.. South Tornado shakes the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood -Skynewsarabia
[3] What is the Future of the STC? Abaad Center for Studies and Research
[5] Will the Omani Mediation and the International endeavors succeed in stopping the Yemeni War? Sputnik Arabic.
[6] Remarks by President Biden on America’s Place in the World، The White House, February 4th 2021
[7] The KSA announces the details of M.B.S's meeting with the biggest US official in the Biden era. CNN
[8] US intelligence provides Saudi Arabia with targeting support in Yemen, intelligence online,16/12/2021
[9] Al Maliki: The “Freedom of Happy Yemen" Operation is  launched on all fronts, Sky News Arabi

South YemenArab CoalitionSaudi ArabiaUAEGrundbergRiyadh Agreement