Southern forces during their deployment in Abyan (Reuters)

Ahwar Attack: Barbaric Message which Reveals AQAP’s Existential Crisis


Thu, 15-09-2022 01:44 PM, Aden

Ibrahim Ali* (South24)

On September 6th, the governorate of Abyan witnessed a major operation carried out by AQAP which targeted a checkpoint affiliated with the Security Belt forces in the coastal district of Ahwar. The attack killed and injured about 28 soldiers and 7 AQAP members. This is considered AQAP’s biggest operation this year regarding its casualties and the nature of the attack. Unlike its previous operations, this one lasted more than 2 hours according to similar accounts from different sources. 

Transient control

Certainly, AQAP through the latest Ahwar attack wanted to assert its presence and that it is capable of implementing major operations. The nature of the attack indicated that it wanted to temporarily control these areas but it failed to do so. AQAP could have withdrawn directly after carrying out the attack but it didn’t. It succeeded in implementing a big operation to draw attention towards its big presence. Contrary to previous times, the organization quickly issued a statement to claim responsibility for the operation shortly after carrying out it. 

A message to the tribes

It can be said that the latest operation in Ahwar was an indirect message to the tribes of Abyan. It is a threatening message that aims to achieve two things: The first is that AQAP is still strong and will take revenge from those who stand against it. The second one is that death will be the fate of any tribal elements recruited in the ranks of the forces that launch military and security campaigns against it. 

Summarily, AQAP likely delivers a warning message that the price of any cooperation against it will be costly. It also wants to assert its presence and its ability to strike targets. It carried out similar operations in Mudiyah district in the same governorate. Ahwar operation as well as its previous and subsequent ones indicates that AQAP has concerns towards the tribal affinity towards the military and the security campaigns against it. Previously, AQAP used to avoid clashing with the tribes and to ignore their ineffective roles in the war against terrorism. However, the situation has changed a lot after the governorate and its people became involved in implementing the tasks of this war. 

The difference now is that AQAP will attempt to depict those operations as a part of the so-called “defending religion” and not “self-defense”. This is likely included in the latest AQAP recording in which it attempted to link between the Southern and external parties who have anti-Islamic projects. AQAP wants to take this as a pretext to justify targeting them.

Expected goals of the operation

It is important to note that the latest Ahwar operation came in the wake of an audio recording for a senior commander in AQAP called "Abu Ali Al-Hadrami" about the Ataq events in which he lambasted STC and the Arab Coalition led by KSA and UAE. He also blamed the Islah Party and denounced what happened to it in Shabwa. Moreover, it is the first AQAP operation in the governorate after STC controlled all its areas. AQAP is likely, through the latest Ahwar operation, to convey a message to the new forces in the governorate to await horrors. 

Regardless of the strength of the operation, it indicates that AQAP has undergone a difficult stage since the latest incidents experienced by the two governorates as the spread of STC forces there deprives it from its last safe bastions. Prior to that, AQAP used to move freely in some areas of the two governorates. Furthermore, those areas served as a starting point from which it can launch external operations. However, the situation finally has changed drastically.

What duplicates the AQAP’s loss of its bastions in the governorates is that it came amid difficult circumstances for it due to the decline of its influence in general in Yemen during the past years. Thus, it seems that carrying out violent bloody attacks in the two governorates is the only available option for AQAP to deal with such updates. 

Security confusion

Additionally, it is likely that the AQAP’s goal - or one of its goals - is to confuse the security situations in the two governorates and to create a bad impression about it after STC’s controlled them. This would accordingly be in the interests of the political parties which lost their influence there. This means that the Abyan will witness an escalation in the operations in a more bloody way during the coming period. AQAP may attempt to carry out operations in several scattered areas in the governorate to distract the security and military effort and create a different impression about its strength and presence.

Therefore, AQAP attempts to recruit new members in its ranks through a religious song and a statement issued on Tuesday urging its supporters to fight for its strongholds in Abyan and to resist what it described as “the UAE-Zionist project”. AQAP launched the so-called “Arrows of Righteousness” (Siham Al-Haq) as an anti-campaign against “Arrows of the East” (Siham Al-Sharq) announced by the Southern forces against AQAP in Abyan.

Wadi Hadramout

AQAP is aware that the arrival of the Southern forces to Wadi Hadramout will tighten the noose around it in an unprecedented way. One of its goals behind the escalation of its operations in Abyan and Shabwa is likely to defend its presence in Wadi Hadramout through distracting these forces by the security situation in the governorates. 

A previous report issued by “South24” indicated that the counterterrorism operations won’t achieve the required success unless Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramout are considered as one field. If not, Wadi Hadramout will remain a safe area for AQAP where it can find sanctuary when the noose is tightened around its neck in Abyan and Shabwa. Furthermore, it can take Wadi Hadramout as a safe haven from which it launches operations against other governorates. 


These indicators reveal that the main AQAP problem is “the safe stronghold” which largely declined after the latest events in Shabwa. 

Additionally, AQAP feels unprecedented fears towards the popular and the tribal affinity with the security and the military campaigns against it in Abyan and Shabwa. By carrying out the Ahwar operation, AQAP attempted to deliver a barbaric message about the nature of its reaction towards any form of cooperation against it in the war. AQAP has concerns towards the Southern forces’ expansion to Wadi Hadramout as this will make it lose all factors for surviving. 

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

South YemenAbyanAQAPCounter-terrorismSTCSecurity BeltAhwarAbyanIslahHouthis