Tensions appear to be rising again in Hadramawt, as the PLC-backed Nation’s Shield forces increase their presence in the governorate. On May 5, Governor Mabkhout bin Madi met with senior military leaders in Seyoun to discuss security at the Al-Wadea border crossing with Saudi Arabia. On May 7, the commander of the Nation’s Shield forces, Bashir al-Madrabi, arrived in Hadramawt from Aden, leading a convoy of Nation’s Shield soldiers. The next day, the Saudi commander of the Joint Forces of the Saudi-led coalition, Mutlaq al-Azima, visited these forces at the border crossing. Saudi Arabia created the Nation’s Shield militia to operate under PLC chief Rashad al-Alimi, partly in order to curb STC influence in southern governorates. Some of the units were previously known as the Al-Yemen Al-Saeed forces, formed with Saudi support throughout 2022.
In early May, following this show of force, the Al-Wadea border crossing was handed over to Hadrami troops from the Nation’s Shield forces. On May 8, 11, and 25, large convoys carrying armored vehicles and soldiers were seen in Shabwa and Abyan on their way to and from the border crossing, and in Aden and its environs.
On May 17, units of the Shabwa Defense forces were deployed in the Nukhan area of Ataq district and the Khashm Ramid area of Amraa district in northeastern Shabwa to secure the Ataq-Al-Abr road linking Shabwa and Hadramawt. The deployment gives the STC-affiliated forces authority over a key stretch of highway used by Islah-affiliated forces, which fled to the Shabwa-Marib border region after they were ejected from Ataq following battles in August 2022 with Shabwa Defense and Giants Brigade forces
Southern actors have also ramped up political activity in the governorate, with local authorities re-opening the Al-Rayyan International Airport on May 8. STC-opposed Hadrami figures used the airport to attend a meeting in Riyadh at the invitation of Saudi Arabia on May 20. At the same time, the STC hosted the sixth session of its National Assembly in Mukalla on May 21.
Al-Qaeda Steps Up Attacks; STC Forces Claim Capture of Islamic State Cell
May witnessed an increase in the number and sophistication of attacks from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Khaled Batarfi, AQAP’s leader in Yemen, issued a video on May 2, condemning Saudi Arabia’s detente with Iran and urging Sunni Muslims to rally behind their jihadist cause.
On May 16 and 20, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for drone attacks targeting the 1st Brigade of the Shabwa Defense Forces in Shabwa’s Al-Saeed district, bordering Abyan. This is the second time since the beginning of the war that Al-Qaeda has claimed drone strikes in Yemen, likely a show of power to raise morale among the militants as their influence wanes. It remains unclear how the group obtained the drones, but a local analyst said they probably came from the Houthis. On May 23, a third drone strike targeted Colonel Ahmed al-Suleimani of the 1st Brigade, but the attack has not yet been claimed by any party.
In response, security units across Yemen have stepped up their campaigns against AQAP, with Houthi forces launching a manhunt in the Al-Sawadiyah and Al-Shariya districts of Al-Bayda. In a series of home raids, a hundred Houthi fighters arrested dozens of civilians while claiming to search for Al-Qaeda militants. However, Houthi forces have a history of using Al-Qaeda as a pretext to round up political opponents or consolidate control in certain areas.
An Islamic State cell of seven people, four of them Saudi, was captured by Security Belt forces in the Yafea region of Lahj governorate on May 26. The group fled there from Al-Bayda, which is under Houthi control.
Houthis Target Key Road in Taiz
A stretch of highway in the Al-Kadha area of Taiz’s Ma’afer district was subject to multiple Houthi drone strikes throughout the month, in an attempt by Houthi forces to secure the area. The road, for which UAE-funded construction began in October 2022, was where Houthi forces targeted the convoy of Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan in March.
On May 2, Houthi explosives-laden drones targeted vehicles and machinery being used to pave the road, damaging several construction sites in the process. On May 8, a Houthi drone strike assassinated Colonel Tawfiq al-Waqar, the former Security Director of Jabal Habashi district, according to local sources. Another drone was spotted over the area on May 16.
Tribal and Security Clashes Ensue in Marib
On May 18, a land dispute between the Al-Rashid Munif and Al-Fujaih subtribes of the Abidah tribe resulted in clashes that left at least 12 dead and 20 wounded. The fighting, which began after an Al-Fujaih tribesman killed a bulldozer driver from the Al-Rashid Munif clan, spread to the Al-Mukarib, Al-Museel, Bin Maali Station, and the Qummad areas of Marib Al-Wadi district. In the process, several homes and vehicles were burned and dozens of internally displaced families were forced to relocate from the Al-Naqea camp.
On May 20, tribal mediation successfully negotiated a ceasefire between the subtribes, but clashes briefly resumed on May 22 before subsiding again, according to a tribal mediator and an independent media source.
In other areas in the governorate, regular fighting between Houthi forces and the UAE-backed Saba Axis of the Giants Brigades continued in Harib district in southern Marib. On May 3-4, Houthi forces killed two members of the Saba Axis and wounded three others in the Mala’a area. Clashes broke out on the front again on May 8-14, May 16, and May 24, resulting in an unknown number of deaths on both sides, according to community activists and local residents. Fighting also spread to the Wadu and Bwara areas during this period.
Clashes Continue Across Various Frontlines
In Lahj and in neighboring Al-Dhalea, clashes between Houthi forces and STC-affiliated forces increased slightly from last month, resulting in the injury and death of dozens of soldiers on both sides. Fighting in Lahj governorate was focused on the Hamala Hawamrah front in northwest Al-Qabaytah district, the Habil Hanash front in the north of Al-Musaymir district, and the Tur al-Bahah front, all located near the border with Taiz. Nearby, in Al-Dhalea, Houthi forces disrupted pro-government and STC-backed attempts to expand their positions in the Al-Jub and Batar Hajar areas of northwestern Al-Dhalea district, as well as the Al-Fakher and Bab Ghalq areas, both in northwestern Qaataba district.
In Hudaydah, regular clashes continued in Hays district, particularly in the Al-Bughail Al-Asfal and Al-Sha’iniyah areas. Clashes also flared along the coastal region in the southwest of Al-Tuhaytah district where Katyusha rockets were used. On May 25, Houthi marine forces launched a number of patrols into international waters, one of which came within five nautical miles of Zuqar Island, home to the largest Joint Forces naval base in the Red Sea. Houthi forces also inaugurated the group’s annual youth indoctrination camps in the districts of Al-Tuhaytah and Bayt al-Faqih, where students are trained to handle weapons and receive “cultural awareness” lessons.
Clashes continued across the frontlines in Abyan, particularly in the Aqbat al-Tharah and Aqbat al-Halhal fronts in Lawdar district. In Mudiya district, STC-affiliated Security Belt Forces and Operation Arrows of the East counterterrorism forces responded to several roadside bomb attacks by sending reinforcements to the former Al-Qaeda stronghold on May 1 and 13.
Other Security Developments in Brief
May 7: Dozens of citizens from the village of Dar al-Haid in Sanhan district southwest of Sana’a city protested in front of the Public Prosecution Office, calling for an end to the ongoing confiscation of land by influential Houthi leaders. Similar large-scale land appropriations, which Houthis claim are state endowments, have been carried out in Bani Hushaysh, Hamdan, and Bani Matar districts. The main roads into and out of the capital run through these four districts.
May 10: Armed gunmen led by the director of the Yemen Petroleum Company’s branches in Al-Khawkhah and Hays districts, Mohammed al-Hindi, prevented three of the company’s oil tankers from entering the Al-Khawkhah district in southern Hudaydah, according to an official company statement. Gunmen loyal to Al-Hindi previously prevented eight tankers from entering the district on April 30, reportedly following a directive from the company’s Hudaydah branch leader, Anwar al-Amiri, that the branch headquartered in Al-Makha is not permitted to send oil derivatives to stations in the two districts. Representatives from the company stated that the measure is aimed at starving the local market in both districts of oil derivatives in an attempt to increase fuel prices.
May 12: Four Al-Masoud tribesmen were killed and 13 were wounded in Mansoura village in Al-Quraishiyah district of Al-Bayda when Al-Arami tribal gunmen threw a hand grenade at worshippers in the local mosque. According to local sources, the attack was the result of a five-year-old tribal vendetta, in which the attacker’s brother was killed by a member of the Al-Masoud tribe.
May 18: An armed gang led by migrant smuggler Riyadh Daresh killed one African migrant and wounded another in Al-Rabwa area, in the central part of Lahj’s Radfan district, according to local activists. Daresh, who smuggles African migrants through Lahj to areas in Al-Bayda governorate, was arrested along with an associate and placed in a detention facility run by the STC-affiliated 5th Support and Backup Brigade in Al-Habilayn city in Radfan.
May 24: Houthi and government forces exchanged the bodies of eight fighters in southern Al-Bayda district. The exchange was mediated by the Yemen Foundation for Justice, Development, and Peace, and carried out under the supervision of Abu Amir al-Musabi, a local mediator and employee of the foundation.
May 25: Houthi gunmen stormed an annual meeting of Yemen’s Baha’i community, kidnapped 17 members, including five women, and raided several Baha’i homes in Sana’a. Baha’is in Yemen have suffered for years from campaigns of violence, imprisonment, interrogation, and public incitement. The Houthis have seized their property and exiled a number of their members.
May 30: Over 100 Yemeni fishermen arrived in Al-Khawkhah district in southern Hudaydah after being released by Eritrean authorities. The fishermen were reportedly arrested, taken from their boats, and forced to perform hard labor in Eritrean prisons before being released and repatriated.