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Military & Security Frontlines Remain Relatively Calm Despite Houthi Drone Attacks Against Southern Ports

اقرأ المحتوى باللغة العربية

Although there were no major ground offensives in November, military tensions have increased amid continuing Houthi drone attacks on government oil ports and reports of increased Houthi and anti-Houthi reinforcements arriving at various frontlines. While the truce largely continues to hold, in that no major ground offensives have materialized, intense clashes were reported along fronts in Taiz, Lahj, and Hudaydah. There was also growing concern among the Saudi-led coalition leadership that the Houthis were preparing for a major attack. Houthi reinforcements to southern Marib have prompted the deployment of several Giants Brigades battalions to the Marib-Shabwa border area, and intensified Houthi attacks along the Taiz-Lahj border have prompted the creation of a government-STC joint operations room in Lahj.

Behind the frontlines, insecurity and internecine conflict continue to play out in government-held areas. In Marib, tribal clashes were reported in Marib al-Wadi district, which was also the site of multiple assassinations of pro-government commanders. In Taiz, attacks linked to militia leader Ghazwan al-Mikhlafi were reported, and the seizure of a weapons shipment by bandits in neighboring Lahj governorate prompted a joint government-STC security campaign. In Abyan, STC-led counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continued, with multiple suspected AQAP IED attacks reported against STC and government forces.

In addition to ground fighting, Houthi forces carried out multiple drone attacks on government-held coastal positions. In addition to the November 9 attack on Qan port in Shabwa and November 21 attack on Al-Dabba oil terminal in Hadramawt, Houthi forces launched a drone attack on a government-aligned Yemeni coast guard headquarters in Hayma in Hudaydah on November 10. On November 17, Houthi forces reportedly tested an anti-ship missile, which was launched from Nehm in the east of Sana’a into the Red Sea.


Coalition concern about a potential Houthi offensive grew in November. Amid the increased deployment of Houthi reinforcements to fronts in southern Marib and northeastern Al-Bayda governorates, several UAE-backed Giants Brigades battalions were deployed opposite Houthi forces in southern Marib’s Harib district. On November 17, Houthi forces attacked government army positions near the eastern Al-Balaq mountains, with clashes continuing for three days and no advances made by either side.

Several tribal clashes were reported in Marib governorate’s Marib al-Wadi district, which has seen an uptick in tribal unrest in recent months. On November 3, clashes broke out between the 5th Presidential Protection Brigade forces led by Brigadier General Saeed bin Saleh bin Ma’ili, of the local Ma’ili tribe, and Damashqa tribesmen in the Al-Arqeen area of Marib al-Wadi district following the brigade’s establishment of a military encampment in the area. Tribal sheikh Mohammed Mohsen bin Jalal attempted to mediate a halt to the fighting, but was killed along with two escorts when traveling between the parties. A second tribal mediation attempt led by Sheikh Khaled Ghaleb al-Ajda and Sheikh Mardi bin Kaalan succeeded in halting the fighting for eight days on November 4, allowing negotiations to continue. The PLC instructed the Ministry of Defense and the Army General Staff to form a committee to mediate with the tribal sheikhs and remove any new military sites on Damashqa tribal lands. The fighting closed the international road linking the governorates of Marib and Hadramawt for 20 hours and destroyed power transmission lines from the Marib power station, leading to a multi-day blackout in Marib city.

On November 19, tribal mediation led by Sheikh Ali bin Hassan bin Rabih and Sheikh Ali bin Hassan bin Gharib led to the demarcation of a border between the Damashiqa and Ma’ili tribes in the Al-Araqeen area of Marib al-Wadi district, according to members of the mediation committee. The border is based on a ruling issued by Bin Gharib in 2017, which was rejected by the Ma’ili tribe at the time. Separately, on November 9, tensions stemming from a blood feud escalated into clashes between the Al-Hatik and Aqar tribes in the Kara area in southeastern Marib al-Wadi district.

November saw the killing of at least two government commanders in Marib. On November 2, Nasreddin Nasr al-Khadhafi, a prominent lieutenant colonel in the government’s 102nd Brigade, was shot and killed near the Arsh Bilqis junction in southern Marib al-Wadi district while returning to the frontlines in the south of the governorate. A gunman from the Al-Ghazil subtribe was identified as the killer. On November 8, Ministry of Defense adviser Brigadier General Mohammed al-Jaradi and his escort were assassinated in Marib. Details about the assassination are still unclear; the victims’ bodies were found near Al-Shuhada cemetery in Marib al-Wadi district. The Ministry of Defense issued a statement of condolence and described the incident as a terrorist operation. A member of the Jaradi family said the assassination was a premeditated act, hinting that he might have been killed by security or military forces in Marib.

On November 7, an explosion at an arms depot in the Command Center of the 3rd Military Region briefly caused panic in Marib city. The explosion sent missiles and munitions flying in the air, and a number landed in crowded residential areas. The incident caused the death of four civilians – two men, a boy, and a girl – and injured five others, including a woman and a child.


Clashes between Houthi and government forces continued along various fronts in Taiz governorate. Early in the month, Houthi and pro-government forces clashed on the Al-Hatoub front in Jabal Habashi district, where Houthi forces have erected new barricades and fortifications in the Milat area threatening government forces stationed close to the Al-Dhabab road connecting Taiz and Aden. During the same period, four civilians were injured in mortar shelling in Al-Salou District and Houthi drone attacks were reported on government military sites along the Shaqab front in Sabr al-Mawadim district. Between November 18-19, Houthi forces fired artillery and mortar shells on government forces along several fronts, including in the Kalaba neighborhood in western Taiz city, the Al-Kadha area of the Al-Ma’afer district in southern Taiz, and Jabal Han, to the west of Taiz city in Sabr al-Mawadim district.

In addition to the Houthi-government fighting, conflict among pro-government forces continued behind the frontlines. On October 31, the director of the transportation office in Taiz, Aref Noman, survived an assassination attempt by soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 170th Air Defense Brigade, led by Abu Dhar Abdullah Hassan. Noman had refused to grant Hassan a license to collect tolls at a checkpoint on the Al-Turbah Al-Misrakh road in place of transportation office employees, who are legally authorized to do so. Noman has been accused of receiving bribes from Hassan in exchange for promises to hand him control of checkpoints. On November 2, Taiz security forces arrested Hassan after he was shot in the leg while trying to evade capture.

On November 17, armed clashes erupted between security forces and armed gunmen in the Al-Rawdah and Zayd al-Mushki neighborhoods of Taiz city, where local warlord Ghazwan al-Mikhlafi holds influence. According to eyewitnesses and a local official, a violent explosion heard during the confrontations was the result of a rocket-propelled grenade targeting security forces loyal to Captain Issa Kamel, nicknamed Al-Arz, who works as an advisor to the commander of the 170th Air Defense Brigade in Al-Rawdah. Ghazwan is the leader of a notorious Islah-affiliated armed group known for seizing land and extorting merchants in the city. Ghazwan and his brother, who was killed by security forces on October 24, are the nephews of the former commander of the 22nd Mechanized Brigade, Major General Sadiq Sarhan. On November 18, Ghazwan published a video on his Facebook page threatening to avenge his brother by killing Taiz security director Mansour al-Akhali. Ghazwan also threatened PLC member and National Resistance forces leader Tareq Saleh, who he described as Akhali’s main supporter.


Fighting between Houthi and anti-Houthi forces intensified in Lahj in November. Between November 4-7, Houthi and pro-STC 10th Saiqa Brigade forces clashed on the Habeel Hanash front, in the northwest of Al-Musaymir district, after Houthi reinforcements arrived to reinforce the Karesh, Hamala, and Habeel Hanash fronts. On November 10, Houthi forces forcibly evicted residents of the Thabra, Al-Dhulah, Bayt Hamim, and Al-Amlah areas in northeast Al-Qabaytah district, reportedly to establish new military positions. Heavy clashes between Houthi and Southern Resistance forces were subsequently reported along fronts in Al-Musaymir and Al-Qabaytah districts throughout mid-to-late November, with Houthi forces displacing several families after making advances along the Habil Hanash front on November 18. Clashes were also reported between November 10-12 in Lahj’s Tur al-Bahah district and Hayfan district in neighboring Taiz governorate, with Houthi forces reportedly mobilizing forces in the area ahead of an attempt to advance further into Lahj.

On November 8, senior military and security leaders attended a meeting at the home of Governor Ahmed Abdullah Turki aimed at unifying and coordinating efforts in the governorate through a joint operations room. The meeting of pro-government and STC commanders was the first of its kind in Lahj since the STC’s takeover of Aden in August 2019, according to local sources. Among the outcomes of the meeting were the coordination of security checkpoints in the governorate to ease the passage of traffic and the launch of Operation Arrows of the West, aimed at targeting the criminal gangs that block traffic and rob motorists.

A noted increase in banditry in Lahj governorate was observed in November. On November 1, gunmen from the Al-Hamidah tribe hijacked a truck transporting weapons from Aden to the Taiz Military Axis in Wadi Ma’baq in Al-Maqatirah district, although the shipment was later recovered. On November 10, one civilian was killed in clashes between security forces and local armed men in the Mabaq area in the east of Al-Maqatirah district that closed the road linking Taiz and Aden for two days. On November 11, pro-government and STC forces launched the joint campaign Operation Arrows of the West. Following a day of fighting, the Joint Forces announced the arrest of eight suspects. Several people were killed and wounded in the fighting and others fled. On November 16, dozens of residents of the Al-Wahat area, in the southwest of Tuban district in southern Lahj, organized a demonstration to protest recent armed clashes by tribal groups. Activists taking part in the demonstration protested the use of violence in residential neighborhoods that are supposed to be safe for civilians.


Military activity was reported along various fronts in Houthi-held Al-Bayda governorate in November, especially along the governorate’s northeast and southern borders. On November 8, eyewitnesses reported that Houthi military reinforcements had deployed to the Aqbat al-Qantha front in Al-Bayda’s northeastern Naaman district, which borders government-held Bayhan and Ain districts in neighboring Shabwa. Houthi forces also built new fortifications and secondary roads into the mountain range overlooking Bayhan.

Between November 15-19, clashes were reported between Southern Resistance and Giants Brigade forces on one side and Houthi forces on the other in the Al-Hadd–Yafa front along Al-Bayda’s border with Lahj governorate. Houthi drones were seen flying over the front during the fighting.


Clashes between Houthi and anti-Houthi forces continued in Al-Dhalea governorate in November, mostly consisting of shelling and drone attacks along the Bab Ghalaq, Al-Fakher, and Batar Hajar fronts.


Fighting between Houthi and Joint Forces in Hudaydah governorate remained concentrated in the south, with consistent shelling exchanges and clashes reported in Hays district. Throughout the month, Houthi forces continued construction on a nine-kilometer rock barrier extending from the Red Sea coast at Al-Ghuwaireq to the Jabaliya area north of Al-Tuhayta city. Houthi sources said the barrier is littered with landmines disguised as rocks.

Hudaydah governorate remained a notable area of Houthi drone activity in late October and November, with at least five separate drone attacks reported. On October 30, Houthi forces conducted two separate drone attacks in southern Hudayah: a strike near a Joint Forces military site near Jabal Debas in northeast Hays district that killed a civilian, and an attack targeting a Joint Forces military site east of Al-Khawkhah city that killed two National Resistance forces fighters. On November 10, three Houthi drones targeted a Coast Guard command center at the port of Al-Hayma in southern Hudaydah, causing a munitions stockpile to explode and injuring five Coast Guard personnel. On November 12, a Houthi drone targeted a Joint Forces military truck near a poultry farm in the Abu Zahr area in northern Al-Khawkhah city, the first drone strike inside the city since January 2022. On November 14-15, two Houthi drones targeted Joint Forces positions in the Al-Roun area of Hays district, killing at least two Joint Forces fighters.


Intermittent fighting between Houthi and Southern Resistance forces was reported in Abyan in November, with most activity along the Aqbat al-Tharah front on the border between Al-Bayda’s Mukayras district and Abyan’s Lawdar district. Clashes and shelling exchanges were reported between the two sides throughout the month, with no major advances by either side. On November 8-9, Houthis forces deployed reinforcements to Abyan’s Jayshan district and the mountainous areas of Al-Bayda governorate overlooking Abyan’s Lawdar, Mudiya, and Jayshan districts, although it was unclear whether their intention was to distract Southern Resistance forces from nearby operations against AQAP or to prevent Al-Qaeda elements from fleeing into Houthi-controlled Al-Bayda. On November 9, STC military, security, and local authority leaders in Abyan held a meeting in response to the Houthi advance.

STC and government forces continued operations against AQAP elements in Al-Mahfad district, as part of Operation Arrows of the East. Security Belt forces deployed at the entrances to Al-Mahfad city on November 10, with additional reinforcements deployed there and along the road to the Jura Valley on November 18. Amid the ongoing campaign, multiple suspected AQAP IED attacks were reported against STC-aligned and government forces. An IED attack against Security Belt forces and 1st Brigade forces killed three soldiers in Wadi al-Khayala on November 4, while a roadside bomb targeting a convoy carrying two Security Belt commanders killed at least three STC-aligned fighters on November 17, although both commanders escaped unscathed. On November 19, three soldiers were killed and six wounded from the pro-government 103rd Infantry Brigade when their military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the Omayran Valley in the east of Mudiya district.

Amid the pressure generated by ongoing counterterrorism campaigns in Abyan and Shabwa governorates, reports surfaced in November of an emerging conflict in the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Yemen between incumbent head Khalid Batarfi and Saad bin Atif al-Awlaki, a member of the group’s Shura Council. The leadership dispute began last April when jihadi leaders in Shabwa complained that Batarfi was trying to isolate them, cutting off finances and payments to the families of dead fighters, and refusing to allow them to fight against the Houthis. Awlaki met with leaders in Shawba in April and July and promised that their complaints would be heard by the group’s leadership and that Batarfi would address their concerns. With an apparent lack of progress, Awlaki accused Batarfi of embarrassing him in front of his constituents and trying to diminish his influence, and promised to retaliate. The result has been significant fragmentation among the leadership, with some supporting Awlaki, such as Khabib al-Sudani, and others standing with Batarfi. Batarfi is Saudi, while Awlaki is one of the most senior Yemeni members of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.


Although not a major locus of fighting, Shabwa saw multiple military developments in November amid reports of Houthi reinforcements to border areas in northeastern Al-Bayda, with the Saudi-led coalition reportedly fearing another Houthi offensive. On November 3, Giants Brigade forces shot down a Houthi drone near the village of Shaab Mado in eastern Al-Saeed district, and on November 8 eyewitnesses said that a Houthi drone attacked a camp of the 6th Brigade of the Shabwa Defense forces on the Al-Qantha front in northwest Bayhan district. According to eyewitnesses, on November 9 military forces affiliated with the 3rd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry Brigade of the Giants Brigades passed through the city of Ataq. The forces, under the command of Haitham Qassem, redeployed from the Red Sea Coast in Taiz governorate to desert areas along the Shabwa-Marib border. On November 23, the Houthis employed drones to attack a pro-government military camp in the Al-Alam area, 80 miles from the Al-Abr crossing to Saudi Arabia. The attack killed two soldiers and injured two others. According to media sources, the governor denounced the attack in a call with the commander of the 1st Military Region.

On November 13, the Belabid tribes of the eastern districts of Shabwa held a sit-in to pressure Governor Awadh bin al-Wazir al-Awlaki, the PLC, and the Saudi-led coalition to remove Islah military encampments from the Areen area near Shabwa’s northeastern border with Marib. The tribesmen, who hail from the Jardan, al-Talh, Dhar, and Arma districts, raised banners and chanted slogans demanding the removal of the Islah-affiliated camps, created in September after their forces were driven out of Ataq city. Prominent Belabid tribal figures said they consider the presence of such forces a threat because they are not subject to the directives of the military and security institutions in the governorate.

Maritime Security

Maritime security was of increasing concern in November with the deployment of various Houthi naval forces, in addition to ongoing drone and missile attacks on government-controlled oil ports. On November 1, Houthi patrol boats were spotted in the international shipping lanes off Al-Luhiyah district in northern Hudaydah. On November 17, government military spokesman Brigadier General Abdo Majali stated that Houthi forces had conducted an anti-ship missile test, firing from the xfNehm area northeast of Sana’a out into Yemen’s territorial waters off Hudaydah’s Red Sea coast. Majali said there was irrefutable evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had provided logistical support to the Houthis for the test, and called on the international community to help protect maritime trade and freedom of navigation. At the Manama Dialogue Conference in Bahrain from November 18-20, government military officials met with international military leaders to discuss various issues, including freedom of navigation in light of the missile test. At the conference, Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak talked of a Houthi danger to maritime security, adding that Iran had turned the Houthis into an international threat.

On November 8, US Central Command forces in the Gulf of Oman intercepted a dhow smuggling explosive material from Iran to Yemen. The boat was carrying more than 360,000 lbs of fertilizer, used to make explosives such as landmines, and ammonium perchlorate, a component of ballistic missile fuel. The Yemeni crew was turned over to civilian authorities. On November 19, near the port of Al-Mokha, the coast guard captured a boat and nine sailors accused of working for a Houthi smuggling operation between Somalia and the port of Hudaydah. Around the same time, a number of Houthi drones were seen flying over Zuqar island, west of Houthi-controlled Al-Tuhayta city, which the coast guard uses as a training center. Local internet services and landline communications in Al-Tuhayta district were reportedly down during the events.

Program/Project: The Yemen Review