The Governor of Hadramout, the Yemeni Chief of Staff, and the Commander of the Support Forces of the Arab Coalition visiting the Al-Wadeah land crossing, May 3, 2023 (official)

Air and Sea Ports in Hadramout: What Is Going On?


Wed, 17-05-2023 12:46 AM, Aden Time

Some may believe that the removal of the Emirati forces from the Ar-rayan Airport, is probably a move to enhance Saudi influence in the governorate.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

On May 8th, the local authorities of Hadramout, South Yemen, announced that they took over the Ar-rayan International Airport in Mukalla under instructions from the Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad Al-Alimi and as part of the coordination with the Arab Coalition.

The move to hand over the airport, where Emirati forces have deployed since expelling the AQAP from the coast of Hadramout in 2016, came concurrently with Saudi moves in the governorate as well as decisions issued by Governor Mabkhout bin Madhi regarding Al-Wadeah border crossing with Saudi Arabia.

Over the past days, Mabkhout bin Madhi made several visits to Al-Wadeah and the city of Seiyun to discuss arranging work in the busy land port. On May 3rd, he held a meeting in Al-Wadeah crossing that included Yemen Chief of Staff Sagheir Aziz and the Saudi officer Sultan Al-Baqami.

According to the media office, the meeting discussed “the mechanism of developing the crossing to unify the security tasks, prevent any kind of task conflict and listen to the most prominent hardships in all aspects”.

On May 7th, Hadramout Governor issued a decree to establish a committee to assess the situation at Al-Wadeah crossing and reactivate the main port. On May 9th, the committee carried out its first tour in Al-Abr district to examine the progress of the work in the land crossing.

While these moves came as part of steps to restore and enhance the activities of land and air ports in the governorate according to local authorities, some may believe that the removal of the Emirati forces from Ar-rayan Airport is probably a move to enhance the Saudi influence in the governorate. 

This view is enhanced by the timing of the move which came concurrently with steps made by Saudi senior military leaders in Shabwa and Hadramout. They also coincided with holding the Southern Consultative Meeting (SCM) and the upcoming 6th session of the STC National Assembly in Hadramout on May 21st. 

Ar-rayan Airport

In early April 2015, the activities of the Ar-rayan International Airport stopped following AQAP’s control on areas inside the governorate for one year after Northern forces fled from there. 

Destruction and looting that hit large parts of the airport in addition to the measures imposed by some countries halted its activities for 8 years. This increased the pressure on the Seiyun International Airport in Wadi Hadramout and Al-Wadeah crossing.

On November 27th, 2019, the local authorities in Hadramout reopened the Rayan International Airport after finishing the maintenance operations with UAE support.

On February 4th, the Yemeni Transportation Ministry said that it resumed air flights in the Ar-rayan International Airport which received the first airfreight in years. It pointed out that there are “arrangements to resume flights from the Rayan Airport to Cairo and Dubai".

However, reopening the Ar-rayan International Airport raised questions about the Emirati forces there, due to their big security role in the coast of Hadramout over years. This came amid concerns regarding the impact of their absence on the security situation.

A security source in Ar-rayan International Airport, who demanded anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to media, exclusively told “South24 Center" that “the Emirati forces are still present in the airport even after it was handed over to the local authorities".

He added: “It is true that Emirati forces withdrew from the Ar-rayan Airport after the recent agreement about that, but they are only part of the forces. Other forces are still deployed in other sites of the airport”. 

The source insisted that "the halt of the airport’s activities over the past years “had nothing to do with the presence of the Emirati forces there”. He noted that attempts to smuggle explosives and artifacts were among the main reasons that delayed the restoration of its full operations.

A swap?

As in the case of most areas of Wadi Hadramout, Northern forces, which are part of The 141st Infantry Brigade led by Brigadier General Hashim Al-Ahmar, control Al-Wadeah crossing. The people of Wadi Hadramout demand the departure of these forces in addition to the First Military District. 

Although the tasks of Al-Ahmar forces are legally limited to protecting the crossing, these forces directly supervise its activities and revenues according to exclusive sources who spoke to "South24 Center". Recently, forces affiliated with the Saudi-backed "Nation Shield" also deployed in Al-Wadeah.

The synchronization between handing over the Rayan International Airport in Al-Mukalla and the local authorities' moves towards managing Al-Wadeah crossing makes things appear as a possible Saudi-Emirati bargain. However, this assumed swap has not so far been completed.

On May 12th, Hadramout Governor said in a TV interview: "Nothing has so far changed regarding the issue of Al-Wadeah crossing although we agree that the local authorities will directly supervise it".

In a remarkable move, Commander of the Joint Forces Lt. General Mutlaq Al-Azima visited one of the 1st Division Brigades affiliated with the "Nation Shield Forces" in Al-Wadeah on May 8th.

The senior Saudi officer examined the conditions of the training operation and the combating readiness of the newly-formed forces according to Okaz newspaper. Al-Azima met with the Commander of the Nation Shield Forces Brigadier General Bashir Al-Subaihi, the Commander of the 1st Division Colonel Ali Al-Shami and the Commander of the 2nd Division Colonel Fahd Bamoamen.

Sources exclusively told "South24 Center" that the Nation Shield Forces would likely take over the tasks of the security and military protection of Al-Wadeah crossing over the coming days in Hadramout.

An official source in the Nation Shield Forces told "South24 Center" that "the Northern forces in Al-Wadeah crossing have so far refused the idea of withdrawing from the crossing".

He added: "These forces won't withdraw unless there is an explicit decision from the PLC in agreement with the Arab Coalition or we will have to clash with these forces to expel them. It is an inevitable option in my opinion".

On May 11th, Hatem Al-Ahmar, an officer in the Hashem Ahmar Brigade, joined the Houthis. Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti published a picture of him and Al-Ahmar in Sanaa. This was seen as an implicit message to Saudi Arabia from the Northern forces at Al-Wadeah crossing.

Journalist Muzahim Bajabir believes that Hadrami forces will soon take over the protection of Al-Wadeah crossing. He told "South24 Center": "The forces in the crossing won't hand it over without a sovereign decision from the PLC".

He added: "The indications of this decision began to loom. There are only a few steps until the Hadrami forces take over the crossing and its responsibilities".

Bajaber stressed on the importance of the crossing for Saudi Arabia in "securing the Saudi-Yemeni borders, drying up the drug smuggling sources and ending the political tension caused by the ongoing presence of non-Hadrami forces".

He concluded: "Al-Wadeah crossing is considered a vital artery for Hadramout. Handing it over to the people of the governorate will benefit it in particular and the areas surrounding the crossing in general. This won't be limited to the security side but will extend to the administrative and service aspects".

Abdullah Al-Shadli 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

South YemenHadramoutNation Shield ForcesAl-Wadeah crossingAr-rayan Airport