AQAP in Abyan and Shabwa: Silence is More Dangerous


Tue, 26-07-2022 04:28 PM, Aden

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

During the past days, AQAP escalated its operational activities in a number of the Southern governorates. It carried out more than one operation in Shabwa, Abyan and Al-Dhalea governorates amid speculations of being behind an attack which targeted a prominent security official in Aden. 

The sudden escalation came after a long slumber in carrying out operations in such an accelerating and bold manner. Since 2019, AQAP largely froze its operational activities and limited them to military participation as part of the anti-STC forces in Abyan and Shabwa. Prior to that, AQAP had participated with these forces in fighting the Houthis in some Northern governorates according to what some of their leaders admitted. 

The latest AQAP attacks ostensibly seemed inconsistent with analysis which repeatedly stressed that the organization passes through an unprecedented phase of weakness and decline. However, what came in the aftermath of these operations really confirms its weakness and decline.

First, AQAP indirectly apologized to Abyan police or Shuqra police according to what it called it. [1] This followed the latter's declaration about its readiness to launch a large-scale operation in the governorate to purge it from AQAP. [2]

This may not be the first time in which AQAP apologized for targeting soldiers affiliated with the government and the Islah Party. The apology can be read as part of AQAP's fear of a backlash it can't confront, especially that the police will be part of several forces assigned to engage in the battle in the governorate. This means that the opportunity of playing with the war against a former partner may be little or 0%. 

AQAP's apology suggests that its decline was not limited to its financial and manpower capabilities but it became less able to foresee the outcome of its operations in comparison with the past. For example, it committed a mistake in launching attacks against a former partner.  It later attributed this as being a result of “an individual behavior". AQAP made a mistake by apologizing to it publicly as this would push this partner to distance itself from engaging in a relationship with an organization which is included in the terrorism list. Thus, this apology would push its former partner to engage in a military and a security operation against it.

What further confirms this decline is that AQAP resorted to another plan to divert attention away from its presence in Abyan. The plan is to carry out operations outside the governorate such as the one which targeted Lahj Security Chief in Aden. [3] Although AQAP has not so far declared its responsibility on implementing it unlike many operations which it carried out in the past period, the evidence suggests AQAP'S fingerprint as it came as part of operations it carried out or attempted to implement in Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramout. 

AQAP's last two operations didn't distract others from its latest conditions. They underscored the importance of launching a decisive battle against it in light of the military and security preparations in the governorate.

Freezing activities

Although the short period in which the latest AQAP attacks were implemented pushed the speculation too far regarding the nature of the incoming escalation, no subsequent operations were carried out. If such a stationary phase continues, this could denote that AQAP probably tries to distract by freezing its activities, even temporarily. This follows the failure of previous plans in this regard which caused counterproductive results.

If the organization resorts to launching new attacks, they will likely be outside Abyan. For years, AQAP has suffered from the decline of its geographical areas of influence. This means that it lacks the ability to flexibly deal with the operations against it. Thus, maintaining the influence areas or the areas of its existence are more important than carrying out operations in such circumstances.

This plan is probably the most dangerous one as it targets its rivals' enthusiasm and motives to launch operations against it. It also gives it the opportunity to rearrange its position away from any security or military pressure. Moreover, this plan reduces the media pressure against its former partners who were confused by its latest operations.  

Information obtained by the author denotes that the contact line between AQAP and the forces affiliated with the government in Abyan is continuing directly or indirectly through tribal mediators. 

The motive behind the communication between the two parties could be more urgent in light of the recent attack crisis. The two parties realize they will need each other in the future such as they did in the past. Additionally, they may believe in the necessity to treat what may cause breaking their relationships. It is remarkable that any break in the relationships between them will be a temporary one due to the ideological link and the common concerns that gather them.


Whether it is AQAP's current plan or not, it can be said that everything will serve its interests if the war against it becomes only a backlash against its operations regardless of what will be achieved through military and security operations in such a framework.

Furthermore, this sort of operations reveals a lack of intelligence operations which is the backbone of the success in the war against any "terrorist" and extremist organizations in and outside Yemen.

Until now, AQAP is the one which determines its areas of existence and moves through the operations it carries out. These operations also could assess the size of its power and capabilities. Apart from that, the position of AQAP remains vague due to the lack of information. Certainly, these security and military alerts would not have occurred if AQAP kept building its power and capabilities silently and didn't reveal itself through its activities.

Amid such conditions and circumstances, the silence of AQAP is supposed to be more worrisome than its activity. It is important to note here that AQAP's latest operations in South Yemen followed a long silence which had created an unreal impression about the organization and its status.

Initiative and surprise were probably the most distinctive features of the military operations against AQAP backed by the Arab Coalition in 2016-2017 in one of its most important strongholds in Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramout. Definitely, the information was strongly present at that time. Therefore, the impact of these operations was clear during 2018-2019 before the war began against the Shabwani Elite Forces which left the governorate till December 2021.

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

1- Terrorist groups affair researcher Elisabeth Kendall, (twitter.com)
2- Counterterrorism units launch a large-scale campaign against AQAP members in Abyan (alsharaeanews.com)
3- Aden: Casualties in an explosion that targeted Lahj security chief (skynewsarabia.com)

AQAPShabwaAbyanHadramoutTerrorism attack