Military parade of the newly created southern taskforce consisting of 5 brigades - 1 January 2023

The 2nd Phase of the «Arrows of the East»


Thu, 19-01-2023 01:35 PM, Aden

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

Two weeks ago, the Southern Forces announced the start of a new phase the “Arrows of the East” concurrently with the return of what can be considered an escalation of AQAP’s operations in Abyan governorate in South Yemen.

The first phase of the operation succeeded in expelling AQAP from its main headquarters in the governorate, foremost of which is Wadi Amran in Mudiyah district, east of Abyan. However, the operations didn’t stop. Over the past weeks, the group carried out a number of operations in Abyan which led to a number of casualties within the ranks of the Southern forces. This comeback probably expedited the second phase of the “Arrows of the East” operation.

Expected Comeback 

Although the first phase of the operation made great success in driving the group out of its main bastions in Abyan, AQAP’s operations have made a comeback at an escalating pace. These operations don’t mean that the previous battle against AQAP failed to achieve its goals. The return of AQAP’s operations was expected as it wanted to prove its ability to implement retaliatory attacks and that the operations against the group failed to weaken it. Moreover, the group is trying to impose a de-facto security reality to look as an initiator. By making this, the group seeks to cover up what happened to it in the governorate or to prove that its operational activity has not been affected.

Through its operations, the group seeks to deliver a practical message to the tribes that it has not lost the war and is still capable of targeting those who take part in the operations against it. AQAP delivered a threatening message to the tribes to confirm its ability to reach all who participated in the Abyan operations. Apart from the goals of the latest AQAP operations in Abyan, it can be said that the group is still able to target but with limited capabilities. This is because the group has become almost exposed in the governorate after being driven out of its main bastions during the past operations. Although AQAP may keep some strongholds, they are not as strong and important as its previous bastions. 

The Second Phase

Although AQAP in Abyan and Shabwa has become weaker than before, the second phase of the operation won't be easy. This is because it will be responsible for chasing small groups who are active in nowhere. AQAP no longer has a known stronghold after being driven out of its most bastions. The second phase aims to put an end to  all those disturbing ambushes which lead to big casualties every now and then.

It is important to indicate that the latest AQAP’s activities won't be able to continue at the same pace for a long time as its movability became more restricted thanks to the first phase of the operation. AQAP has likely deployed its elements into small groups in some areas of the governorate. These groups may unilaterally operate without coordinating with each other. Thus, they probably have more ability to hide due to their small numbers. However, they have limited capabilities. Therefore, this would push them to focus on easy, isolated, or closely- spaced targets. For example, it is difficult for AQAP to target a military vehicle within a convoy which consists of 5 or even three vehicles which are spaced away from each other. 

This means that AQAP began rearranging itself in the governorate in light of the latest developments and may be obliged to take compulsory roads because of the scarcity of its options. Previously, moving between areas or provinces was a main option available for AQAP to deal with the security circumstances but its movability has become hard and costly. It can be said that this option has transformed to be like an adventure. This means that AQAP's operations amid the current situation may not reflect power or presence but represent the group's dilemma. Accordingly, launching a second phase of the operation was important provided that its plans were based upon recognizing the new AQAP's status. Additionally, it can be said that the group's latest operations were not derived from a powerful position or an ability to do this, but the group was obliged to deal with an available option in light of its current dilemma.


It can be said that most of AQAP’s operations in Abyan depended on ambushes which are more dangerous than the remotely- detonated explosive devices. Moreover, dealing with ambushes is related to more hardships.  This is because AQAP accurately selects the attack’s starting point to ensure besieging the target and paralyzing the ability to exchange fire by using the surprise factor. Furthermore, ambushes are able to inflict more losses.

It is worth mentioning that the group's ambushes are organized operations rather than random ones. They begin with monitoring the target and determining its size and the path of its moves before making the offensive plan based upon the available information. The group also put many possibilities for unexpected developments that may occur during or after the attack.

As AQAP basically relies upon the intelligence efforts to monitor the target, the group may find big obstacles to ambush convoys or military and security vehicles which take precautions including movement secrecy, camouflage, changing roads every now and then and choosing the suitable routes. This is in addition to what we previously mentioned about the isolated or closely-spaced targets.

No doubt that avoiding ambushes requires big intelligence and security efforts. For example, despite the Iraqi army's counterterrorism experience and massive capabilities, it was exhausted by ISIS's ambushes. Without the US plans, "they would have been like blind people" according to Colonel Salah Karim Al-Kinani of the 9th Armored Division who spoke to Reuters.

Thus, it can be said that being aware of how AQAP prepares its ambushes is important in the process of suggesting solutions and plans to avoid them or reduce their losses. 

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

Al-QaedaKhalid BatarfiSouthern ForcesSiham Al-SharqSouth YemenAbyanShapwa