The city of Aden, southern Yemen, has been witnessing sporadic cycles of violence for seven years, the latest of which was the violent clashes that erupted in the Crater area of the Sirah district, south of the city, in early October 2021. But what is remarkable about this time is that it took place between armed factions affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council, This indicates the existence of deep differences between the forces of the Council, which receives its support from the UAE, and does not hide its separatist tendencies.
The causes of the clashes and the implications of their timing
The roots of the recent clashes are due to undeclared disputes between the military power centers of the Southern Transitional Council, headed by Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, which began to emerge in the beginning of 2019, and then gradually escalated as a result of Saudi Arabia entering the competition line in the city of Aden, where the UAE has great influence, Following the events of August of the same year, during which the council’s forces were able to defeat the government forces and drive them out of the city with the support and backing of the Emirati forces. After that, the council began the process of redeploying its forces based on the results of the confrontation with the government forces, but this did not prevent the emergence of tribal and regional rivalries within the composition of the council’s forces, whose loyalties were divided among three active southern regions: Al-Dhale’, Radfan, and Yafi’.
At the end of 2019, the Council decided to remove forces from the Security Belt in Aden, led by the Nubian Imam (from Radfan), from their position in Camp 20 in the Crater area. To be transferred to the Buriqa area, west of the governorate, but this faced many challenges, so the implementation of the decision was postponed to March 2020. After that, it was agreed that the Nubian forces would withdraw from Camp 20; It will be replaced by the “Assifa Forces”, led by Awsan Al-Anshly (from Dali’). However, contrary to the agreement, security forces affiliated with the Aden Security Department, led by Shallal Shaye (also from Dhale), were retained to control the Ma’ashiq area; Where is the presidential palace.
However, in the recent period, the Nubian has re-emerged as the controller in the Crater area, which includes a number of government and commercial institutions; The most important of them is the Central Bank, and then its danger to its opponents has grown, in light of the increase in the number of its fighters who belong to Aden, and its access to various types of weapons, motorized vehicles, and material support behind which Saudi Arabia and its ambassador to Yemen, Muhammad Al Jaber, seem to have caused this. The issue of rising concern among the other armed factions of the Transitional Council, which raised the level of tension in Crater until armed confrontations erupted there in early October.
One of the direct causes of the confrontations that brought the muffled tension between the council’s factions into the open was that Nubian forces stormed the Crater police station, and released a detainee who was said to have been detained against the backdrop of the popular protests that took place in Aden two weeks before the confrontations. However, there are those who also link the incident and the intervention of the rest of the parties to the confrontation with the issues of illegal acquisition of state lands and property, as well as the private ones, which was common among most of the leaders of the armed factions affiliated with the Council, and represented the source of many clashes witnessed, on a large scale, in the governorates of Aden and Lahj.
As a gateway to alleviating the impression about the severity of the divisions that afflict it, a statement issued by the Council attributed these events to a “titious” political scheme aimed at highlighting Aden as an unsafe city, which creates a justification for the stay of most government ministers outside the country, and obstructing the arrival of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations The United Nations to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to Aden, and igniting popular protests again to eliminate what he described as “the achievements of the south.” Although the statement did not state the party behind this scheme, it is concerned with the parties opposed to the council within the government in which it has participated since December 2020, and this intent extends to Saudi Arabia, which is usually indicated by prominent members of the council that it stands as an obstacle to the aspirations of a report. The fate of the south, based on calculations of its interests in Yemen.
The outbreak of armed violence in Crater coincided with the return of the Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul-Malik, to Aden, after he left for Riyadh, along with a number of ministers, in March 2021, as a result of the escalation of popular protests calling for addressing the deteriorating economic, security and health conditions in Aden. The return of the prime minister also came after the cessation of similar protests calling for the same demands in the city of Mukalla in the Hadhramaut governorate, Aden, and Taiz, as well as with the resumption of international efforts to stop the war, after the appointment of Grundberg as a new envoy to Yemen, who arrived in Aden two days after the confrontations stopped, He met separately with the Prime Minister and the leadership of Aden Governorate, then the leadership of the Transitional Council.
The parties involved in the confrontations in Aden
One of the two sides of the latest confrontations in Crater area was the Nubian imam, along with dozens of armed men, including Adenite youth and others who formed armed groups to resist the advance of the Houthi forces, and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, throughout the years of the war since the attempt to invade Aden in 2015. Two of Imam al-Nubi’s brothers, Awwad and Ali, joined the confrontation arena with armed reinforcements that did not take their chance to modify the balance of the confrontation, while the position of his most prominent brothers, Mukhtar, who holds the position of commander of the “Fifth Brigade Support and Support,” was not clear.
On the other side, there are factions of the forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council, most notably the Asifa Forces, the Security Belt Forces, and the Counter-Terrorism Forces. Among the most prominent names present in them are the commander of the Storm Forces, Osan Al-Anshali, and the commander of the Security Belt in Aden, Jalal Al-Rubaie (Al-Yafi’i). The results of the asymmetric confrontation were in the interest of the Transitional Council forces, which now possess important military capabilities, through which they were able to defeat the government forces loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in the events of August 2019. Despite the concentration of Imam al-Nubi fighters at the entrances to neighborhoods and on the rooftops of buildings Residential and in the mountains overlooking the Crater area, the reasons for steadfastness were not available at all.
The confrontations resulted in deaths and injuries on both sides and among civilians. The identity of the victims reveals the dimensions of the confrontation, the nature of the composition of the council’s forces, and the regional, tribal, and family loyalties that control them. And also about the nature of the relationship and the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Aden. The quick end of the confrontations indicates that the various parties have agreed to stop the escalation, as the Saudi forces stationed at the coalition headquarters in the Buraiqah district played a prominent role in this. The fate of Imam al-Nubi was not clear, despite rumors about his transfer to the headquarters of the coalition via a Saudi armored vehicle. It is expected that the recent clashes will result in a rearrangement of the Transitional Council forces to ensure the dominance of the most prominent side in the rivalry triangle within it (Al-Dhalea / Radfan / Yafa), represented by the President of the Council, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi.
Aden Governorate Map
The recent clashes in the city of Aden added new tensions in the separatist southern rank, which may establish future cycles of violence, with the convictions that it reinforced that the secession project adopted by the Transitional Council or other parties on its side is diminishing the chances of achieving it. The military structure of the council forces, as the recent clashes revealed, is based on rules that do not establish a unified force from which it is hoped to reach what advocates of secession call the “southern armed forces.” The events in Crater in Aden added other accumulations to previous accumulations produced by past violence events, the most recent of which was the August 2019 confrontations, which caused deep divisions in southern Yemen. As for the Crater events, they paved the way for another split within the separatist faction, and even more so. This means that rethinking the secessionist call has become a national necessity to protect and preserve the cohesion of southern Yemen, no less important than the necessity of protecting the national unity of the entire Yemeni soil. It has also become clear that if separation occurs, it does not stop at southern Yemen, but continues to fragment the south itself.
(Political Studies Unit)