MS Risk Blog

The Violent Situation in Yemen’s city Aden

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The Yemen conflict has been ongoing since 2015 marked by consistent fierce fighting between the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi led Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi movement. Last year, the UN declared that Yemen was on the verge of a major catastrophe and that conditions had hugely deteriorated since previous visits to the region. However, the fighting has taken an unexpected turn this month, with sharp divisions surfacing between factions within the Sunni Muslim military coalition led by Riyadh battling the Houthi movement. The port city of Aden has suffered the majority of violence. It has been controlled by the Saudi-backed government since the Houthi movement overruled Sanaa in 2014 but recently has been overpowered by the separatist movement.

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) or separatists and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi are by name part of the Western-backed coalition fighting the Houthis. However, this unity has rapidly broken down in August. The separatists and Hadi’s government both have rival agendas, with the separatists demanding self-rule in the south. There have also been disagreements over the Islamist Islah party, a key part of Hadi’s government. The UAE views Islah has connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist organisation founded in Egypt, which the Arab nation has banned. Islah is tolerated by Saudi Arabia due to their contribution in propping up Hadi.

Violence has erupted throughout the port city of Aden during August. The deadliest day in Aden in nearly 2 years was seen on 1 August. The Houthi movement launched missile and drone attacks on a military parade in the city, killing 36 people. An explosive hit a military camp belonging to the Yemeni Security Belt forces backed by the UAE. Suicide bombers further blasted a police station in another of the city’s neighbourhoods. The attacks killed dozens of separatist soldiers, raising intense friction between the groups and prompting several days of violence in the city. The STC accused the Islah party of complicity in the Houthi missile attack on southern forces and Hadi’s government of mismanagement. As a result, on 7 August, southern separatists clashed with presidential guards in Aden, killing three people and injuring nine others. Fighting continued for a third consecutive day, with reports of at least 20 people killed. At least five civilians were amongst the dead and dozens were wounded in the violence, according to doctors and security officials. On 10 August, separatist forces seized military camps and other state institutions in the city, prompting Saudi Arabia to call for an urgent meeting. However, despite earlier statements from separatist leaders that they are ready for peace talks, the separatists have refused to hand back control of Aden port to the Saudi-backed government. This has delayed a summit in Saudi Arabia that will discuss reformation of Yemen’s government in order to include the separatists and halt the clash.

The situation in Aden has severely ruptured the military coalition led by Riyadh and complicated UN efforts to host political talks, with fighting between the groups wasting time and money which could be better spent on working towards an overall ceasefire agreement in Yemen. The likelihood of the groups rekindling appears low. According to a Yemeni official, the summit’s inclusion of the STC is only linked to them fully withdrawing from Aden first. However, the STC have said its forces will remain in Aden until the Islah party and northerners are removed from powerful positions in the south. A delay is likely to further increase tensions, violence in Aden and even incite the Houthis to launch further attacks. Amidst the conflict, the Houthis have targeted Saudi energy infrastructure. On 17 August, a drone attack launched by the Houthis on an oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia caused a fire at a gas plant. The group targeted the Shaybah oilfield with 10 drones. However, there were no injuries and no interruptions to oil operations. The UN has called for a de-escalation of violence, with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths requesting the parties to honour their commitment to peace and put more efforts towards a political solution to the conflict. The recent conflict is only likely to further extend the bloody war in Yemen. Any chance of a coveted ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi movement appears low as long as the violence between the separatist movement and the Hadi government continues.