The Downfall of Beihan into the Hands of the Houthis, Causes and Results


Sun, 03-10-2021 07:13 PM, Aden

Jacob Alsufyani (South24) 

On September 21st, the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized control of Ain and Bayhan Al Qisab in addition to large parts of Asailan District (locally known as Beihan districts) in the governorate of Shabwa in South Yemen after the withdrawal of the government forces without resistance according to local sources.

Days ago, the militias which control Sanaa and most parts of North Yemen launched two simultaneous attacks on the governorates of Abyan and Shabwa, neighboring to Al-Bayda, in North Yemen, which was fell down completely by the Houthis after battles against Giant Brigades and Popular Resistance in as well as the withdrawal of the governmental forces from some fronts.

Moreover, the Houthi Militia intensified its attacks on Marib governorate, bringing the fall of Harib District, bordering Shabwah, less than one day of controlling Ain, Beihan Al Qisab and large parts of Asailan.

Currently The Houthis are engaged in several battles in Marib, top of which are Al Jubah District, Alabdeya and Sirwah after controlling "Rahbah and Mahliya" in the governorate of which Marib the final bastion of the Yemeni government in North Yemen.

The downfall of the Shabwa’s western districts raises fears about new Houthi invasion of South Yemen’s governorates, which were liberated more than 7 years ago backed by the Saudi-Emirati Alliance, and the repeated scenarios of the fall of Sanaa and Northern territories, especially with the accusations by the STC in Aden against the Islah-affiliated governmental Forces in Shabwa of serving the Houthi interests and conspiracy to hand over Shabwa to them like the northern governorates, 


The governmental forces
Shabwa has a number of military axes and brigades, most of them are affiliated with the Islamic Islah Party, and the Vice President, Ali Mohsin Alahmar. The governorate has many military units, which came from North Yemen more than two years ago to participate in the battle against the Shabwani Elite and the STC’s affiliated Forces.

On the practical level, those Forces didn’t resist the Houthi advancement towards Western Shabwa’s districts, which was completed in a matter of hours, and withdrew to other areas of the governorate, Later, those forces clashed with the Houthis in Usaylan and regained some of their areas according to the state media (1). While the STC and tribal components in Shabwa confirm the governmental Forces’ collusion with the Houthis (2), observers pointed at the fragility and weakness of those forces.

In an inclusive interview with South24, the Analyst and Military Expert, Brigadier General Thabet Hussein Saleh said that “the reasons behind the fall of some Bayhan’s districts in Houthi hand are not related to their military superiority but to the inaction of military and security units, affiliated with the legitimacy, which were based in those districts”. He added; “Not to mention the withdrawal of some legitimacy- affiliated units from the districts, bordering Bayhan, from the directions of Bayda; and Marib, and to pave the way in front of the Houthis to reach the Southern Shabwa”.

He continued: “The collusion between the Houthis and the Islah is not a secret, as shown in several areas especially Shabwa”. The Military Expert believes that the governmental Forces’ withdrawal in the face of the Houthis is “a kind of revenge against the Shabwani people who revolt in Balhaf against the existence of Northerners and the Muslim Brotherhood, especially that the Islah Party’s strategy is based on preferring the Houthis over the separatists”.

The Shabwani Political Activist, Mohammed Bin Habtour told “South24” confirmed that the areas, controlled by the Houthis in Shabwa didn’t fall through fighting, but they were handed over to the Houthis in a painful dramatic scene for everyone who fought the Houthis, and made great sacrifices from the beginning of the Houthi War in 2015 until those districts were liberated from the Houthi grip in late 2017”.

Bin Habtour noted that “the same reasons behind the withdrawal of the governmental Forces from their former locations at the doorstep of Sanaa, through Al Jawf, Bayda’ and most Marib’s districts are the same causes which made them withdraw from the Bayhan’s districts in Shabwa also”, adding that “it became clear for everyone that the military moves Subject to political and partisan calculations, and are being taken by some, at the top of the authority, as a bargaining and maneuvering card to achieve and impose what are politically compatible with their attitudes, in such an inglorious way”.

For his part, Yaslam Albabakri, the Media Consultant for the Shabwa Governor, told “South24'' that the “war against the Houthis is an open one since their coup against the legitimacy, they previously launched an all-out war against Shabwa, and managed to reach its capital, before they were fully liberated in the end of 2017 after great sacrifices. He added: “Recently, the Houthi militias launched widespread battles in Al-Bayda, which has a complicated geographical nature and important location. The advancement made by the Houthis in this governorate opened the doors of danger for Marib and Shabwa, and enabled the Houthis to make advance in Harib and Beihan”.

He went on saying; “This is a war, where advance and regress are possible odds. However, unfortunately, the news, promoted by a lot of media outlets about the withdrawals provide free service for the enemy” stressing that “the National Army is repositioning and reorganizing its ranks beyond the liberation of Beihan”.

The absence of the Shabwani Elie

On August 21st 2019, Military clashes erupted between the governmental Forces and the STC-affiliated "Shabwani Elite" in Shabwa governorate, following violent battles in Aden, which ended in favour of the STC. The Yemeni governmental Forces, most of whom are aligned with Islah, were able to defeat the Elite Forces and expelled them from Shabwa, to announce on the 23rd of the same month that they had complete control of the governorate. Only two Shabwani Elite brigades in the Balhaf gas facility remained, in addition to the Emirati Forces.
A special Saudi Committee had arrived at Ataq, the capital of Shabwa, in conjunction with these events. The Saudi support for the governmental Forces in Shabwa is clear as the military vehicles delivered by the state which leads the Arab Coalition participated in the war to control Shabwa according to military observers.

The Shabwani Elite Forces consist of seven brigades, which engaged in a number of wars against the AQAP in Shabwa. Those Forces played a role in combating the tribal and societal vengeance. In the absence of the elite, Shabwa lost the most important purely southern force that was supposed - according to observers - to be a bulwark against the Houthis and extremist organizations alike.

The rupture of society and the weakening of tribes
"The Shabwani Society is a typical tribal one, as the tribes played the biggest and the most prominent role in Shabwa over its history", according to Sheikh Salim Al Khalifi Abuzid, a member of the Presidency Board of "the united Alliance for Shabwa Citizens" who spoke to "South24".

He believes that the "partisan" Shabwa authority worked to "torn the social fabric of the governorate, as indicated in the return of vengeance after its disappearance during the Shabwani Elite era". Shabwa has witnessed continuous tribal conflicts for two years since the defeat of the Shabwani elite, in which many tribesmen were killed, and various types of weapons were used, without interference from the authorities.

Over the last two years, the government forces also attacked the Belharith tribes, one of the most prominent tribes of Shabwa, in the Asailan district, the tribe's bastion, to control the oil fields there. Just days before the Houthis took control of large parts of this district, the governor, Muhammad Bin Adyo called the Yemeni Interior Ministry to arrest four of Belharith's symbols, describing them as "terrorists".

Sheikh Salim Al Khalifi noted that "the Islah's authority in Shabwa chased the Sheikhs like me who refused submission to it, as a punishment for their national attitudes. He added: "this authority killed our sons in the Shabwani Elite and kidnapped the free Shabwa citizens ".

The relationship between local parties and figures and the Houthis
Obviously, the Houthis believe in religious ideas, based upon the ethnic and dynastical superiority, they used to recruit the tribes and families they believe have the same “Hashemite” lineage. Analysts believe that these ideas played a role in the fall of western Shabwa districts at the hands of the Houthis, as they thwarted popular resistance as a result of the presence of some "Hashemite families" loyal to the Houthis there. 

According to Sheikh Salim Al Khalifi, there are really Houthi militias’ affiliates in Western Shabwa districts who “played a role in the advancement of those invaders”.

In contrast to Sheikh Khalifi’s view, Activist Mohammed Bin Habtour stressed that “there are no popular incubators for the Houthis within their areas under their control in Shabwa, similar to the entire South as no one accepts them” noting that the Houthis intend to deliberately show and spread such ideas through the video clips from some mosques, schools and gatherings, so that this idea will be normalized in the subconscious mind of the people of South. This thing should not go unnoticed, and it has to be addressed with all force and firmness.”

Habtour noted that “the presence of some individuals or even families who had miscalculations and showed their friendliness and acceptance of Al Houthis for one reason or another, does not mean in any way that they has a popular incubator,” refusing to “put a link between  the Houthi project with the Hashemite tribes, which are an authentic part of the Shabwani fabric and have a prominent role in fighting Houthis”.


The area of the districts of Ain and Beihan Al Qisab, controlled by the Houthis is 1440 km2, while the Asilan district, where the militias seized large parts of it is 3232 km2.

Danger for Ataq
According to local sources, the Houthis reached the "Al-Naqoub" junction in the Usaylan district, which connects it with a road that extends for approximately 150-160 km, according to Google Maps, to Ataq, the capital of Shabwa.

The Houthis had overthrown Al-Naqoub and other neighboring areas in Asailan, such as "Wahid bin Aqil, Al-Hajar, Al-Hama Mafraq, and Al-Saleem", on the same day that they captured the districts of Bihan and Ain, according to local sources.

The STC’s military mobilization
Less than a week before the Houthis captured the districts west of Shabwa, the STC’s President, Major General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi declared the state of emergency, military alert and general mobilization in the governorates of southern Yemen, to fight the Houthis and "defend the south."

 Al Zubaidi's announcement came after the militias seized the Al-Somaa district, the last pockets of forces affiliated with the Yemeni government in Al Bayda Governorate, North Yemen, after these forces fled to Shabwa. After the full control of Al Bayda, the Houthis attacked the Thara front in the Lauder district of the Abyan governorate, in which the Southern resistance was interconnected, from the Mukairas side in Al Bayda, and they also attacked Beihan in Shabwa from the Nati’ front.

In this regard, the military expert Thabet Hussein Saleh pointed out that “the Houthi attacks on  southern territories with the complicity of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the refusal of the legitimate forces to withdraw from Shaqra and Shabwa in accordance with the Riyadh Agreement, in conjunction with the intensification of the war of services and salaries against the southerners, give the STC l the right to take all necessary measures to protect lands of the south, and the defense of its citizens.

In his interview with "South24", Mansour Saleh, the STC’s Deputy Head of the Media Department confirmed that "the STC and the southern armed forces bear the task of liberating the south and protecting its security and stability, and this is a mission that cannot be undone." He added: "We do not bet on the forces that facilitated the occupation of South and which were partners in the fall of its areas previously and until today. Every incident has its own time”.

Saudi Arabia and Maeen's visit to Ataq
Suddenly, the Yemeni Prime Minister, Maeen Abdulmalik, arrived on Monday in Ataq, Shabwa governorate, from Riyadh. According to private sources, the Maeen's visit was surrounded by great secrecy and was not announced until hours after his meeting with the local authority of Shabwa led by Governor Bin Adyo, before Abdul Malik headed to Mukalla, Hadramout (3), and then Aden on Tuesday, half a year after his departure from it.

The Yemeni government Twitter account stated that Abdulmalik's aim of the visit was "to review on the ground the military, security, economic, humanitarian, service and development conditions in Shabwa and the liberated governorates" (4) he published a video speech to the local authority in which he talked about the fall of the western Shabwa districts into the hands of the Houthis (5).

This lightning visit by the Yemeni Prime Minister came a week after his meeting with the Commander of the Joint Forces of the Saudi-led Coalition, General Mutlaq Bin Salem Al-Azaima, in Riyadh. (6)

Regarding this visit, the Media Advisor to the governor of Shabwa, Yaslam AL Babakri, pointed out that it comes "in the context of strengthening the national position towards the battle with the Houthi militia, which is the common goal of all."

Invitation to line up
With the advance of the Houthis and the danger of Shabwa’s downfall completely, southern political and social figures called for the various components of the governorate, on top of which is the local authority, most of whose officials, including the governor, belong to the Islah party and the STC, to align. The most prominent of these calls was the call of the prominent tribal sheikh residing in Britain, Saleh bin Farid al-Awlaki, for the Shabwa transitional and the rest of the governorate’s components to stand behind the governor in the battle against the Houthis. (7)

In his response to the chances of rapprochement between the Shabwa authority and the STC, Mansour Saleh said that "the Shabwa authority first needs to prove its good intentions by releasing detainees and abductees, stopping violations and respecting the status and value of Shabwa instead of making it a district attached to the Marib, and showing even a simple form of resistance." against the Houthi militia.

Saleh pointed out that what is happening in Shabwa currently "appears to be a clear case of harmony between the Houthi and Muslim Brotherhood’s militias”, pointing out that "opportunities will remain for communication and rapprochement with any southern force, provided that it is disengaged from the forces of North Yemen, specifically the Houthi group, and that we are all under the roof of the south and work to achieve the goal of restoring its state."

Activist Muhammad bin Habtoor said, "So far, the Shabwa authority has not shown any signs of goodwill with the STC and its supporters. Prisons are still full of detainees who hold a contrary opinion, and arrests of elite soldiers and members of the Transitional Council in the governorate are still ongoing."

He continued, "We naturally call on this authority to feel the seriousness of the situation and assume its responsibility towards Shabwa, as narrow calculations will only lead to more fragmentation and disharmony among the people of the province, which will lead to the weakness of the home front and thus the complete collapse of the Houthi advance."

Commenting on these calls, Yeslam al-Babkri explained, "There is no doubt that al-Houthi is an enemy of all with his dynastic sectarian project, and that he has benefited a lot from the conflicts in the liberated areas, and from the outset there was a loud national voice calling for unifying the position and efforts towards this battle, and after the liberation of the country it is possible to reach solutions to various issues”.

He added, "The shortest way for Yemenis, North and South, to get out of their deep crisis is to unite behind the legitimacy of the President of the Republic, restore the state and end the coup, and then agree on national issues, but what happened is the opposite, yet there is still room to review the situation."

On response to Sheikh Al-Awlaki’s call, Sheikh Salem Al Khalaifi said: “We will not stand behind those who killed our children in the Shabwani Elite and raided our battlefields and handed Bayhan to the Houthis, and I mean Ben Adyo and all the legitimacy’s militias affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood”. He stressed that, “STC enjoys unanimous endorsement by the entire people of South, and that the United Alliance for Shabwa Citizens brings together the people of the governorate without partisan, tribal, or regional discrimination and under the Southern national constants”. 

Fellow and journalist editor with South24 Center
Photo: A Houthi fighter in one of the upper Baihan mountains in Shabwa (Houthi media)

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