Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been weakened by United Arab Emirates-led forces in southern Yemen however this progress may be exploited by the group, a new Combating Terrorism Centre (CEC) report has said.
The 29-page report released this month includes a feature article titled “Can the UAE and its security forces avoid a wrong turn in Yemen?” which claims UAE efforts to combat AQAP is “largely limited to the governorate of the Hadramawt and Shabwa” which is based in southern Yemen. The operation by the UAE forces “could succeed where others have failed, or they could result in an abundance of new opportunities for AQAP to exploit”.
UAE military strategy has formed three security forces, including the “Security Belt Forces (also referred to as Al-Hizam Brigades) largely deployed in southwest Yemen; the Hadrami Elite Forces deployed in the governorate of the Hadramawt; and the Shabwani Elite Forces deployed to southern Shabwa”. Majority of the forces are recruited from the tribes in the governorates they are fighting in to increase human intelligence of the military battlefield.
But the report goes on to argue that although UAE-led fighting is benefiting from the “surge in southern nationalism”; the south is “factional” and subject to “internal fighting”.
The members of the security forces backed by the UAE have been calling for the independence of Hadramawt long before the civil war, which has a history of self-governance. This is in stark contrast to the “iterations of an independent south Yemen” currently being militarily and politically supported by the UAE.
“There is a lot at stake in south Yemen. It is home to most of the country’s natural resources,” the report stated. While the UAE’s presence to combat AQAP operatives, alongside US Special Forces, is reliant on locally recruited fighters, the UAE’s military footprint is being perceived as a “colonising force”.
The UAE entered Yemen in 2015 as part of the Saudi-led coalition to assist the Yemeni government with threats posed by the Iranian-backed Houthi group which currently controls the capital Sana’a. Last year the UAE began supporting Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) which calls for secession from northern Yemen.
Early this year, Yemen’s Ministry of Tourism called on the UAE to stop destroying the Island of Socotra. An official complaint was sent on the United Nation’s Security Council to accelerate a resolution to prevent the UAE from spoiling the natural resources on the Island. In addition to this, last year, internationally recognised President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi called the UAE an “occupier” and not a “liberator”.
Last year, General Council of Mahra governorate and Socotra rejected a call to merge or form a UAE-backed military force in the southern governorates, adding tensions to UAE’s presence in Yemen.