Officials from the Security Belt and pro-government forces meet in Abyan, June 23 (Giants Brigades media)

Will AQAP Escalation in South Yemen Accelerate the Decisive Battle?


Thu, 30-06-2022 02:34 PM, Aden

Ibrahim Ali (South24)

With AQAP escalation in the Southern governorates of Shabwa and Abyan, there are initial discussions about the necessity to unify efforts to launch comprehensive security and military operations that aim to clear the two governorates from AQAP members. 

Abyan police announced in a statement its readiness to launch a large-scale operation in the governorate. A similar pledge was made by Shabwa's Governor Awad Al-Awlaki to pursue members of the terrorist groups after the latest Ataq operation

In what can be considered as the first practical move in that context, the "Giants Brigades" led important attempts to unify efforts of the forces affiliated with the internationally-recognized government and the Security Belt Forces affiliated with the STC in Abyan.

According to a statement issued by its press center, the Giants Brigades received military and security leaders from the internationally-recognized government forces and the commander of the Security Belt in Abyan in the presence of Abyan Governor Abu Bakr Hussein Salem. The meeting aimed at coordinating efforts to confront the terrorist members who try to destabilize the governorate's security and stability. It also discussed the establishment of a joint operation chamber. 

It can be said that calling these parties to override the past and translate this into practical, fast and serious steps are derived from a real sense of the dangerous situation in Abyan and Shabwa. The stress about the need to clear the two governorates from AQAP came after the latter's operations began to take a different form characterized by growing boldness and accelerated escalation.

Escalating operations 

Over less than one month, AQAP carried out more than 6 operations, the bloodiest of which were in Shabwa governorate that didn't witness any similar attack when it was controlled by the Islah party between 2019-2021. 

Besides the huge number of operations, they also denote that AQAP abandoned the policy of not drawing the attention of its rivals towards its  locations despite the major decline of these areas over past years. 

The organization resorted to the policy of freezing its activities to distract attention when it is not ready to engage in confrontations to defend its areas or when it finds difficulties in moving between one area and another inside the governorate itself or from one government to another.

In this regard, the latest operational escalation may seem not congruent with the current conditions of AQAP whose presence has been recently limited to small geographical scope as its mobility became very restricted.

Accordingly, there is an emerging important question about the type of context in which the latest AQAP operations can be read and how will be the form of the next war against it.

Proactive operations

In this regard, a former jihadist believes that AQAP "has not abandoned the policy of not drawing attention to its locations but it takes a proactive step before a possible war against it". 

In an interview with "South24", he pointed out that "due to the changes in Shabwa, AQAP expects an unprecedented war against it in the governorate". He added that it will serve AQAP interests to implement proactive operations that destabilize the security situation.

However, the former jihadist believes that AQAP is no longer able to engage in traditional confrontations to defend its locations or to cause losses in the ranks of their rivals before withdrawing from them as it used to do. 

The man didn't rule out that AQAP probably arranged its position in the governorate in a different way that suits its current circumstances.

During the Islah control over the governorate, AQAP managed to reach places for the first time inside and outside the capital Ataq according to him. He indicated that it may find the opportunity and the time to rearrange its position outside its bumpy and remote hotbeds. This justifies AQAP implementation of operations over close periods within Ataq.

According to the former jihadist, this development means that the war against AQAP should take another form in which the intelligence and the security efforts outperform the military endeavors.

He concluded: "due to its possible disguise method, AQAP may implement big operations in unexpected areas inside the two governorates". However, these operations according to the former jihadist, don't reflect its growing power and influence.

However, the latest AQAP statement could interpret this development in a slightly different way. It can denote that AQAP wants to transform Shabwa to an arena for its operations while keeping Abyan as a start and return backline.

Shuqra government 

It can be said that the Abyan police declaration about an all-out military operation in the governorate strongly surprised AQAP as the police forces are affiliated with the internationally-recognized government which was supported by the organization during its war against the STC in Abyan between 2019-2021.

For that reason, AQAP quickly issued a statement in which it stressed that the latest Ahwar operation was an individual act from some of its members. The statement indicated that such practices violate the "legal" policy of the organization of not targeting government officials in Shuqra for the meantime. 

AQAP reminded this government of the individual practices against it by elements affiliated with the government. It also spoke about “violations" committed by Marib authorities assuming that everyone shares the same tendency.

In order to avoid making AQAP statement look like solicitation, the organization recalled what it considered as joint risks and fears that threaten both parties. They include the UAE-backed forces (Security Belt, Hadrami Elite and Shabwa Defense Forces) as well as the Houthis. Additionally, AQAP stressed that it is ready for armed confrontation if the "Shuqra government" resorted to it. The statement also tried to emotionally impact the governorate's tribes  by talking about Rafida and Sunnis.

AQAP statement pointed to real feelings of concern towards the efforts to unify ranks for launching security and military operations against it in Abyan and Shabwa. However, there is a need for being cautious after the statement revealed AQAP relationship with forces affiliated with the internationally-recognized government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The important part in the statement is the depiction of the mutual operations between AQAP and the forces affiliated with the internationally-recognized government as being individual practices from both parties away from the operations governed by the international war on terrorism.

However, the most important is that the areas controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood (Islah Party) in Marib, Shabwa and Abyan were safe havens for AQAP in its worst time as can be understood from its latest statement. It is easy to note that the more the Muslim Brotherhood's influence area in Yemen declines, the more AQAP influence circle shrinks. 

The features of the next war

AQAP is keen to neutralize forces affiliated with the internationally-recognized government in any military operation against it. Moreover, AQAP announced its readiness for any confrontation imposed on it. But AQAP is not actually ready to confront any security and military operations in the two governorates.

Despite of its lack of readiness, AQAP may be obliged to engage in a confrontation given the heavy costs and the risks related to the strategy of withdrawal and relocation to other areas inside or outside the two governorates. Therefore, the organization sent its message which included an implied threat to Abyan police after the latter's latest declaration. Due to their previous partnership in the war against the STC, these forces are more aware than others about AQAP entrances and exits in the governorate.

However, these anti AQAP operations won't achieve the required success if not being launched concurrently in Abyan and Shabwa. AQAP former partners should not be given a main role in such operations.

*Ibrahim Ali is a pseudonym name of a researcher specialized in the armed groups affairs. He demanded anonymity for personal reasons.

South YemenAbyanShabwaAQAPISISHouthisCounter-terrorismGiants BrigadesIslahSTC