Part of the meeting of the Governor of Hadramout with the Commander of the Arab Coalition Forces on January 17, 2023 (Hadramout Media Office)

Who Seeks to Weaken the Hadrami Elite Forces in Sahel Hadramout?


Thu, 01-02-2024 04:54 PM, Aden

After the failure of the aforementioned attempt, Saudi activists began writing posts on ’X‘ that called for separating Hadramout from South and annexing it to Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

On January 17, 2024, an informed source told ’South24 Center’ that the Hadrami Elite Forces, affiliated with the Second Military District in Sahel Hadramout, had thwarted an attempt by the Nation Shield Forces (NSF), which were formed by Saudi support, to be deployed in the city of ’Husaihasa‘, west of Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout.1

Hadramout Governor and the Head of the ’Security Committee‘ Mabkhout bin Madi had given instructions to facilitate the entry of the NSF forces. He issued the directions that were circulated by local sources. This was confirmed by a military source, who spoke to ’South24 Center‘. However, the Hadrami Elite Forces rejected those directions, thus forcing the NSF to withdraw toward Seiyun in Wadi Hadramout. 

According to Bin Madi's circular, the NSF force consists of 50 military vehicles and five cars. Sources told ’South24 Center‘ that the ’NSF‘, which receives instructions directly from the Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad Al-Alimi, came from Seiyun in Wadi Hadramout to Sahel Hadramout (coastal areas) with an aim to establish a camp in ’Husaihasa’.

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Hadramout as well as tribal and political forces allied with it quickly rejected the entry of the NSF Forces. They issued statements denouncing the move and its ramifications. They also refused attempts to weaken the Hadrami Elite Forces deployed in Sahel Hadramout. This has brought to the forefront the conflict in Hadramout and also highlights the local and regional greed for control of the Governorate, which accounts for more than one-third of Yemen’s total land area and is rich in oil reserves. So, who is trying to ignite the turmoil there?

The Motives Behind the Step

The attempt to deploy the NSF in Sahel Hadramout is part of the political and military moves in the governorate that have been on for more than a year, led by Saudi officials and Yemeni local parties. The latest was the announcement from Seiyun on January 9 about the so-called ’Preparatory Committee‘ to establish a ‘Unified Council for the Eastern Governorates’2. This came months after the establishment of the ‘Hadramout National Council’ in Riyadh3.

Experts look at these Saudi-backed moves as an attempt to reduce the STC’s influence, especially in Hadramout and Al-Mahra. According to them, it is aimed at creating a rival faction in order to weaken the STC’s stance regarding any political deal arrived at, in agreement with the Iran-backed Houthis, to ensure Saudi Arabia’s exit from the Yemeni crisis. Moreover, it appears that Hadramout, in particular, is closely linked to Riyadh’s economic and security calculations. 
It is worth mentioning that the meeting that was held on January 17, the same day on which the NSF tried to enter Sahel Hadramout, included Governor Mabkhout bin Madi and Saudi Major General Sultan Al-Baqami, who serves as Commander of the Support Forces affiliated with the Arab Coalition, according to the Hadramout Governor’s media office

Exclusive sources familiar with the meeting told ‘South24 Center‘ that Major General Talib Bargash, Commander of the Second Military District, and the Hadrami Elite leaders clearly rejected the entry of the NSF. This was notwithstanding the instructions of PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi, who belongs to North Yemen, and the Hadramout Governor's go-ahead for the deployment. Saudi Maj Gen Sultan Al-Baqami reluctantly okayed the return of the NSF to Seiyun.

Saeed Khaled, Director of the STC’s Executive Body in Hadramout, exclusively told ’South24 Center‘: “We, within Hadramout’s STC, reject the entry of any other forces to Sahel Hadramout, especially as the Hadrami Elite Forces are able to carry out their duties perfectly.”

The Southern official added: “The entry of any other forces will lead to a power conflict and needless turmoil. It seems that the goal behind these attempts is to weaken and dismantle the Hadrami Elite Forces. This isn't allowed by the Hadrami people across the entire political spectrum. Also, the formation of the Elite Forces has been a big security and military victory for Hadramout.”4

He added: “Based on this, we don't believe that any Hadrami, inside or outside the power circle, even thinks of conspiring against the Elite Forces. The STC, in its statement about these developments, has denounced the attempt to deploy the NSF in Sahel Hadramout, rather than in Wadi Hadramout to replace the 1st Military District. There have been demands by its people to drive the latter out of Wadi Hadramout.” 

During an interview with ’Alghad Almoshreq‘ on May 27, STC Vice President Ahmed Saeed bin Break said: “There is an agreement with the Hadrami leadership to replace the First Military District with the NSF.” This likely refers to the Saudi reassurances received by STC leaders earlier regarding the NSF. However, these reassurances were violated by the latest deployment attempt. 

Hadrami political analyst Ali Salmin Alobthani describes these moves as part of “the attempts to hit the Southern project for restoring the state, in addition to overshadowing the STC’s influence”. He also told ’South24 Center‘ that “the NSF are apparently supplied with the latest military equipment and receive more attention than the Hadrami Elite Forces”.

An informed PLC source told ’South24 Center‘: “There has been no agreement about the deployment of NSF in Sahel Hadramout during any PLC meeting over the past period. Rashad Al-Alimi unilaterally made this decision in coordination with the Hadramout Governor. The failure of the attempt upset him, and he blamed the Commander of the Second Military District for that.”

Notably, First Deputy Governor of Hadramout Sheikh Amr Bin Habresh has denied a false statement attributed to him regarding his rejection of deploying any forces in Sahel Hadramout along with the Hadrami Elite. This is despite Bin Habresh’s previous stances in which he criticized the UAE, the local authority and the Hadrami Elite Forces. The latest of these was a statement on October 29, which caused a crisis within the ’Hadramout Tribes Confederacy‘ which he previously headed.

Saudi posts

After the failure of the aforementioned attempt, Saudi activists began writing posts on ’X‘ calling for separating Hadramout from South and annexing it to Saudi Arabia. 

For example, on January 19, Saudi activist Saad Mohammed Al-Amri said: “With Hadramout, the unique necklace will be complete and the Saudi empire will be the greatest. This is a dream that has turned into a nightmare for the STC.”

Saudi Military expert Ahmed Al-Fifi said that Riyadh “wants to control a waterway on the Arabian Sea to enhance its economy and trade.” 

Saudi researcher Zayed Mohammed Al-Amri said: “The Hadramis are closer to us than any other Yemeni entity. We love them and they love us. Don't they have the right to be an independent state or a confederation with any neighboring country?”

Another activist Ali bin Shaalan Al-Qarni talked about the Saudi aspirations to consolidate regional influence and expand its clout. He said: “Soon, the great Saudi empire will overlook the three seas.”

On January 21, Saudi writer Nimr Al-Suhaimi called for reporting any posts that contradict Riyadh’s policy, especially a “false map that harms Saudi Arabia’s stance toward the conflict in Yemen”.

However, in a country like Saudi Arabia, it is difficult to talk about stances or voice political opinions against its leadership. This increases the suspicions about the Saudi role in Hadramout. 

1 There are two military districts in Hadramout Governorate; the First Military District is located in Wadi Hadramout, and the second region is in Coastal Hadramout.

2 According to the declaration, the Council aims to unify the four governorates of Hadramout, Al-Mahra, Shabwa, and Socotra. Many Southerners look at this new formation as another Saudi attempt to counter the STC’s influence in order to secure positions in these governorates.

3 On June 20, 2023, the formation of the ‘Hadramout National Council (HNC)’ was announced in Riyadh in the presence of Hadramout Governor Mabkhout bin Madi and Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jabir. Many Southerners believe that the formation of such a council aims at destabilizing the STC's efforts to enhance the Southern ranks and make way for intra-dialogue among different Southern parties including the Hadramis.

4 The Hadrami Elite Force played a decisive role in ousting the AQAP from Mukalla in 2016 and subsequently reducing jihadi hotbeds in the interior.

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Participated in editing this report:
Jacob Al-Sufyani, Director of the Regional Office of the South24 Center in Aden

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

Note: ’South24 Center‘ contacted the Hadramout Governor’s Office and NSF commanders in Hadramout to add their comments in this report, but we haven’t received any response as yet. 

South YemenSaudi ArabiaHadramoutSTCPLCActivistsRiyadh polictFirst Military DistrictWadi HadramoutHadrami Elite Forces