Local residents in Abyan, January 17th 2023 (South24 Center)

How Does Abyan Look Like After the «Arrows of the East» Operation?


Fri, 10-03-2023 02:13 PM, Aden

Raad Alrimi (South24) 

Dropping a piece of clothes that hides his hand which was amputated by AQAP more than 10 years ago, citizen “Nasser Mohammed” who lives in Jaar District of Abyan governorate stared at South24 Center’s correspondent and a local journalist who came to visit him.

The soul of the man has also been amputated as he witnessed AQAP's brutality by which Abyan paid the heaviest price of the group’s presence and spread. Mohammed spent a long time talking and explaining his story. AQAP punished him by amputating his right hand for a presumed “theft” crime after a trial held by the group.

He told “South24 Center”: “They amputated my hand with a sharp tool before moving me to Al-Razi Hospital in “Jaar District which is controlled by them”. He added: “A Syrian doctor who is an AQAP member was awaiting me and stopped the severe bleeding that I was suffering from”. 

Local residents in Mohammed’s village believe that he was subjected to this cruel punishment not because of the theft crime but in order to enhance AQAP’s sway among the public in fear of a possible insurgency.

A local resident told “South24 Center”: “Even if he actually stole, he didn't deserve such a punishment as we live in very tough conditions and suffer a lot to get daily enough food for our families".

According to Mohammed, his current presence in Abyan comes as part of a quick shuttle visit before returning to Aden, to escape what he described as “shame". The man hides what happened to him by claiming that he hurt his hand in an aluminum and iron workshop. We attempted to take a photo for him but he declined.

Al-Razi Hospital in Jaar District in Abyan governorate, Jan 18th 2023 (South24 Center)

Mohammed's story is among thousands of stories which took place in Abyan during AQAP's incursion of Zinjibar, the capital of the governorate, and other areas in May 2011. One year later, the group was driven out of Zinjibar by the "Golden Swords” operation carried out by forces affiliated with former President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. AQAP kept its strong presence in central Abyan which constituted its main bastion in the country. Over a decade, these areas remained immune against any anti-AQAP operations and served as a starting point to its operations and attacks in Abyan, Lahj, Aden and Al-Bayda.

In August 2022, Southern forces launched the "Arrows of the East" operation which expelled AQAP from the central regions and destroyed the group's biggest camps in the country. Moreover, the Southern forces managed to secure several districts amid big casualties among the soldiers.

South Yemen's flag (former) was drawn after controlling AQAP's stronghold in Wadi Oemran (local media platforms)

Before the operation, there had been a conciliation and security arrangements which had led to end the feud between the Southern forces and other forces affiliated with the government in Abyan. In early January this year, the second phase of the operation was launched to stop the explosive devices that the group resorted to after its military presence had almost vanished completely. 

For local residents, retired officers and activists who spoke to “South24 Center”, the “Arrows of the East” operation constituted a new beginning in Abyan in general and the central areas in particular. It served as a glimmer of hope to normalize life and conditions in the governorate which has witnessed several wars over the past years.

Security enhancement

Social expert Dr. Saleh Baazab, said that life returned to normal in Abyan and the central areas after “the Arrows of the East” operation which was an auxiliary to the “Golden Swords” to clear Abyan from AQAP. 

He told “South24 Center”: “Everyone lives well today after getting rid of this terror. Students go to schools fearlessly. Reality today is much better. However, it is not an ideal one as there is a lot that needs to be done to reach the desired situation”. 

He added: “After expelling AQAP, Abyan is moving forward at all levels. However, service and security aspects need more reinforcement. Travelers in all roads have to be secured as well as the international organizations which provide humanitarian services to people”. 

Mohammed Ahmed, the retired officer in the Interior Ministry, confirms the improvement of the security situation in Abyan after the “Arrows of the East". He told “South24 Center": “The security performance is moderately satisfactory and continuously improves but one must realize that improving people's conditions is an essential part of the task to enhance security".

The officer believes that the state of poverty rampant in the countryside of Abyan is one of the reasons that feeds the extremist ideas and breaches security and social peace". He added: “We should see the full capacity of governmental facilities in the central areas of Abyan which have been secured by the latest operation".
Cleaners in the city of Jaar, Abyan governorate, Jan 19th 2023 (South24 Center)

Media and human right activist Jamal Hussein believes that what the people of Abyan experiences including AQAP and the Houthi wars as well as the subsequent events taught them a lesson about the importance of security and stability in securing a decent life for people".

He told "South24 Center": "We are part of the community in Abyan. We notice that there is an abnormal community awareness today which is not a spur of the moment. It has been formed by the fires of wars and the suffering of Abyan and its people till now".

According to Hussein, Abyan lost 1592 persons between 2015 and 2019 without counting the casualties of the AQAP war in Zinjibar priory and the post-2019 victims till the "Arrows of the East" operation. He added: "The operation had a big and positive impact on Abyan and was able to achieve landslide victories".

The activist claimed that the security victories achieved by "Arrows of the East" are subjected to conspiracies. He said: "There were attempts to incite the tribes in central Abyan, especially Mudiyah district's tribes, against the Arrows of the East" forces. However, these malignant attempts failed as Mudiyah people were alerted earlier".

He added: "Some events that occurred accidentally between individual members of these tribes and the Arrows of the East forces were addressed as the victims were compensated. This move prevents dragging Mudiyah people into fighting their brothers in favor of hostile forces".

Hussein pointed to the popular rallies in Mudiyah to express support and the grassroots solidarity with “the Arrows of the East” operation. He added: “These rallies delivered a big blow for terrorism and its supporters. Abyan’s tribes had their say as they realized the importance of establishing security and denouncing extremism". 

A retired military expert, who demanded anonymity, warned of not including the people of Abyan’s central areas among the military and security formations participating in “Arrows of the East”. He told “South24 Center”: “Those young people should be absorbed, equipped and merged in order not to find ourselves obliged to launch another Arrows of the East in the future”. 

Freedom of movement 

Security is deployed extensively across the international line in Abyan which for many years was considered as one of the most dangerous areas for travelers and pedestrians. This is due to the spread of bandits and the weakness of the security performance in the central areas and most of the governorate. 

Experts and residents attributed this big security improvement to the “Arrows of the East” operation which enhanced the presence of the security and military presence in different areas of Abyan. According to activist Jamal Hussein, “citizens today move safely between the districts of Abyan”.

He added: “The International traffic continues its trips between Aden - Hadramout and vice versa as well as between Saudi Arabia-Hadramout-Abyan-Aden. Private cars and vehicles move safely and pass through security checkpoints which make internal and external inspection”.

Southern forces participating in the “Arrows of the East” operation in Abyan, October 2022 (South24 Center)

Over the past years, checkpoints affiliated with the Security Belt forces in Abyan have uncovered dozens of drug smugglers and wanted persons. Moreover, the Abyan Security Department managed to arrest cells accused of association with the Houthis in central Abyan.

Mohammed Ahmed believes that the freedom of movement at its current level in Abyan is just an extension of normalizing life in the capital Aden near the governorate. He added: “The tangible security results in Aden have their impact on the neighboring governorates”.

The return of local authorities

The presence of the local authorities in Abyan is concentrated in the districts of Zinjibar, Jaar and Khanfir districts while it diminishes in the central areas of the governorate where AQAP was based. 

Secretary General of the Local Council, Mahdi Al-Hamid, spoke to “South24 Center'' about the aspiration of the local authorities to resume its full activities in Abyan’s central areas after the success of the “Arrows of the East''. He said: “We are looking forward to repeating the experience of normalizing the public life in Zinjibar after driving AQAP out of the central districts”. 

He added: “Everyone exerts big efforts to achieve this. Governor Major General Abu Bakr Hussein is keen on that like his predecessors but he has the biggest role in that as everyone knows”. “South24 Center” was not able to meet Abyan Governor due to his presence outside the country during the field tour. 

The local official stressed that Abyan “has suffered enough ruin and destruction and has to be compensated today as well as putting an end to the militarization of public life inside it”. He added: “The status of Abyan as a war arena must end. Everyone has to be fair to Abyan which paid a heavy price and support its authorities to serve citizens”.

In a previous report, “South24 Center” monitored the service and living conditions in Abyan and met with the main officials in the governorate who unanimously reached a consensus about the weak budgets, the poor capabilities and the need for higher interest by the central government towards the governorate. 

Raad Alrimi

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies 

Nasser Mohammed and Mohammed Ahmed are aliases at the request of the speakers.

MudiyahZinjibarAQAPArrows of the EastAbyanSouth Yemen