The webinar

Webinar: Experts Call for Strengthening Counter-Terrorism Efforts in South Yemen


Wed, 27-09-2023 01:06 PM, Aden

Aden (South24)

Experts on extremist groups have warned about the missing or insufficient role of the regional and international parties in the counter-terrorism efforts in South Yemen, and the danger of leaving the Southern forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to confront this cross-border terror threat all by itself.

This came in a virtual webinar symposium organized by 'South24 Center for News and Studies', on September 23, 2023, on ’Zoom‘, with the participation of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Al-Naqib, official spokesperson of the Southern Forces, Adrian Calamel,  American researcher in terrorism and the Middle East region, Brigadier General Hassan Al-Shehri, Saudi military expert, and Hussam Radman, researcher on extremist groups.

The webinar, which lasted more than an hour and a half, and was moderated by Yemeni researcher Ezzat Mustafa, discussed the recent surge in terrorist attacks in South Yemen, evaluated the reasons for the absence of a regional and international role in counter-terrorism efforts in the South, and the appropriate mechanisms needed to strengthen efforts in the War against Terrorism.

Strategic alliance

American expert Adrian Calamel said the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen have united today with the extremist Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) outfit against South and the STC. Calamel was critical of the current US Administration’s lack of understanding of this common threat. The expert pointed out Tehran's influence on AQAP's first-line leaders, such as Saif al-Adel, who is believed to be the most powerful man in the organization today.

Yemeni researcher Radman went on to describe the relationship between the Houthis and AQAP as a “strategic alliance”, and said that the Houthis’ interest in declaring war on “Sunni terrorism” has ended and no longer exists as it did in 2015 when they invaded South Yemen. He added: "AQAP's internal crises has prompted the organization to take on new enemies, with the UAE and the STC figuring at the top."

The Southern Forces spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Al-Naqib, called for providing the Southern Forces with “qualitative weapons” to confront what he described as “the strategic capabilities that AQAP has recently acquired, such as drones”. The Southern military official accused the Houthi militia of providing AQAP with drones, which were used several times against the Southern Forces in Shabwa governorate during the past months.

Al-Naqib gave an update on the progress of the military and security operations of the Southern Forces against AQAP in Abyan and Shabwa governorates. He said that their forces achieved "major victories" against AQAP and ended its presence and strongholds during the ’Arrows of the East‘ operation launched by STC President, Major General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, a year ago.

Political presence

Saudi military expert Brigadier General Al-Shehri recalled the historical circumstances behind the emergence of extremist groups in South Yemen, pointing to the role played by the ’Afghan Arabs‘ in the 1994 war between South Yemen and North Yemen, and the latter’s use of jihadists returning from the Soviet fight against Aden and the South.

“The former Yemeni regime, led by Ali Abdullah Saleh and Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, and the Muslim Brotherhood, supported the emergence of terrorist organizations in South to find justification for militarily confronting the efforts to disengage, abandon unity, and restore the state of South. Terrorist ideology is alien to this region, and its presence in South began after unity with the Sanaa regime," Al-Shehri said.

Reasons for absence

The three experts gave different assessments of the reasons for the absence of regional and international roles in the War on Terrorism in southern Yemen, with “shifting priorities” topping these assessments as the main reason.

According to American expert Calamel, US intelligence failed in the past to pursue a policy of remotely targeting AQAP leaders in Yemen with air strikes. He said: "They needed to have a greater presence on the ground to combat terrorism." In recent years, Calamel said, the US focus has shifted towards ISIS at the expense of interest in AQAP.

"The US during the Biden Administration is in a continuous state of withdrawal, and Ukraine currently represents its greatest interest," he added.

Researcher Radman believes that new developments in the Yemeni, regional and international scene have resulted in a weakening of the regional and international role in efforts to combat terrorism. He added: "The regional and international role against terrorism in Yemen is not absent, but it may not be sufficient. The US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE represented the trinity of counter-terrorism in Yemen”.

Radman attributed the weakening of the US role to the change in Washington’s priorities and interests, adding: “The US interest in combating arms and drugs smuggling has overshadowed its interest in counter-terrorism. Saudi Arabia has recently focused its attention on the political aspect in Yemen, stopped attacks against it, and has also reached an agreement with the Houthis, while the UAE is considered a pioneer today (in the war on terror).”

Radman referred to the recent agreement to resume diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which includes the reactivation of a previous security memorandum between the two countries. He said that Saudi Arabia may today be outside the circle of AQAP's targets due to the great Iranian influence on the terror organization’s activities and the Islamic Republic’s unwillingness to disturb the progress of its diplomatic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Naqib was critical of the absence of a regional and international role in counter-terrorism efforts in the South. "Our forces are confronting these terrorist organizations alone today, and the UAE is the only one who has given us a helping hand and provided assistance to us in this damaging war."

Saudi expert Al-Shehri blamed Western countries. He said the West deals in a dual manner with regard to terrorism, as it embraces what he described as “the symbols and ideologues of terrorism among the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Al-Shehri stressed his country's renewed role in this field, adding: "Saudi Arabia has enormous capabilities at the military and intelligence levels to confront this imminent danger."

Mechanisms and processes 

American expert Calamel called on the US to partner with the STC in the War on Terrorism in Yemen, and said, "This is the only option now available to the US administration." The expert reiterated the need to strengthen the American presence on the ground, and not to dismiss the threat of AQAP.

Calamel warned of the escalation in the activity of AQAP and other extremist groups as a direct result of Iran's recent acquisition of billions of dollars that had been frozen in many countries. He added: "Iran has become rich after its frozen funds were released, and this means more support for the Houthis against the STC. Iranian military technology is transferred to the Houthis and AQAP in Yemen."

According to expert Radman, "The STC must accompany its security efforts with its political moves to create a consensus on the issue of terrorism in Yemen." He added: "The Presidential Leadership Council must also launch a comprehensive national operation with the participation of all its forces, mainly against terrorism and AQAP. The international community must also put pressure on Iran, which drives and supports terrorism today."

However, the Southern Forces spokesperson did not see the reliability of the other local parties to partner with them in the War on Terrorism, and pointed to the presence of AQAP elements in the ranks of the forces loyal to the Islamic Islah Party, especially in the First Military District in Wadi Hadramout.

South24 Center for News & Studies

South YemenHadramoutAQAPIslahFirst Military DistrictTerrorismAbyanShabwaSouthern Forces