The Southern forces during their deployment in Mudiyah district, Abyan governorate, October 2022 (South24 Center by Youssef Thabet)

Anti-AQAP Operations in Abyan: Can Victory be Fully Achieved?


Tue, 18-10-2022 04:21 PM, Aden

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

Late last month, the Southern Forces were able to reach the last AQAP’s stronghold in Abyan in South Yemen. This came after launching a large-scale military and security operation to uproot the organization from the governorate. With the arrival of these forces to Wadi Oemran in Mudiyah district in the east of Abyan, AQAP then lost its last bastion in the governorate for the first time in years. 
Despite the AQAP’s attempt to hinder the progress of these forces by operations that varied between ambushes, explosive devices and direct confrontations, things have not gone as planned. However, the movement by the AQAP's elements into other regions in the governorate or at its borders means that the battle against it has not yet been resolved and that it may take more than one form.
This can be proven by the operations it carried out in Mudiyah district itself and Al-Mahfad district after being expelled from its last big stronghold which harbored a large number of its members and leaders. The latest of such operations occurred on Friday and caused the killing of 4 soldiers according to military sources.
What does the loss of Wadi Oemran mean?

In light of the circumstances experienced by the AQAP for years, the loss of this bastion is considered a new painful blow to the AQAP whose areas of free movement had become limited which means more restrictions against its moves. It is important to note that the organization carefully selected this valley which is impenetrable and has terrains that facilitated hiding and resisting the campaigns against it. However, AQAP ultimately lost Wadi Oemran as the operation that targeted it was different from the previous ones.
Nonetheless, this valley was not a famous AQAP's stronghold inside the governorate unlike Al-Mahfad district. Many people knew its name only after the Southern forces' announcement about launching the "Arrows of the South" operation in Wadi Oemran and the governorate in general. This means that the organization may still have other unknown bastions in the governorate to resort to in such circumstances.
For an organization that is internationally fought and chased permanently, the idea of a safe bulwark comes on top of its priorities. Certainly, AQAP is more aware of Abyan's areas than others due to its settlement of many of its areas over the past years. Thus, it can be said that the loss of Wadi Oemran has been a painful blow to the organization who has been increasingly constrained day after day. However, this achievement will lose its importance if it is limited to controlling Wadi Oemran.
Definitely, what is more important than driving the organization out of the valley is knowing its upcoming destination within the governorate and not heading to it before securing Wadi Oemran to ensure no comeback by the armed elements. This requires the presence of a big force to meet the needs of this military and security task.
AQAP's statement 

After AQAP was driven out of Wadi Oemran, the organization issued a statement which revealed its next plan. Although the statement seemed an indirect admission of losing the battle, it threatened to launch a different long war. However, such threats, included in the statement, are not different from its previous deeds. Launching targeted operations through explosive devices and ambushes is not something new unless it intends to escalate such operations and to be involved in a long-breathing battle as the statement used the term "attrition".

However, the attrition operations with their escalatory style are mainly tied to how freely AQAP can move inside the governorate or within its central geographical area as its historical stronghold and a war scene. Moving smoothly has not been possible to the same degree as before and may become more difficult in the future if the plan of the military and security operation takes this into consideration.
Information war

In light of the scarcity of bastions or the areas of influence as well as the decline of power and capabilities, AQAP will be keen to distract eyes away from its new presence areas in the governorate through freezing its activities or carrying out operations in remote areas. This demonstrates the importance of available information which requires unusal intelligence efforts. This form of war against terrorism is more difficult and complicated and needs big efforts and coordination with external parties which are interested in this file as part of international counterterrorism efforts. By reviewing all the US department achievements in this regard, we found out that information has been the backbone of this war. Without it, the plans and missiles of this war will be blind and can't hit their targets.
Currently, AQAP is likely seeking to confuse military and security operations against it in the governorate by carrying out operations here and there. It may be active in unexpected places to distract eyes away from its presence areas or the new ones where it rearranges its ranks.
This means that the areas from which AQAP may launch its attacks are not necessarily its presence and influence areas. Focusing on them can waste efforts although the war against terrorism is supposed to include all its areas.
If the military and security operations in the governorate maintain its current momentum and become part of a long-term plan to uproot the organization from the governorate, its attacks will begin to decrease as they are mainly tied to its ability to move freely. Nonetheless, the most dangerous thing is to draw a link between the military and security actions against AQAP and the organization's active or inactive status. Freezing its activities to rearrange its cards and ranks and to bypass the crisis of the intensified operations against it is more dangerous than coming out to implement attacks. 

To achieve the goals of security and military operations in the governorate, they must be continuous and comprehensive. They should not build plans upon achievements like controlling a stronghold here or there because the bastion lacks its importance amid the ability to move freely.

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

South YemenAbyanAQAPCounter-terrorismSTCSecurity Belt