The United Arab Emirates (UAE) triggered a counter-terrorism operation in Shabwa governorate early this morning against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Gulf News reported today.
“The operation is being carried out by the Shabwani Elite Forces, backed by the UAE, under the leadership of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition,” a statement on the Emirates News Agency read. The operation has already secured major roads in northern Shabwa, according to the Khaleej Times.
The UAE-led operation was launched two days after Daesh in Yemen killed 14 people and wounded 40 while attempting to storm a counter-terrorism headquarter in Aden, southern Yemen, on Saturday. Daesh claimed full responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, and described the attacks as “martyrdom operations”.
All of the Shabwani Elite Forces have been recruited within tribes in southern Yemen. The recruits are being paid $800 per month to fight for the UAE. A panel of UN experts on Yemen determined in a new report that the Shabwani Elite Forces comprise of 3,000 to 4,000 foot soldiers. The UAE also supports the Hadrami Elite Forces, which focuses its military operation in the governorate of Hadramaut. Both have violated international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen, according to the latest UN report on Yemen.
In August last year, the UAE, alongside the United States, launched what they deemed a “successful” counter-terrorism ground assault in Shabwa which forced AQAP to flee to nearby strongholds in Azzan, Ataq, Al Aqla, Jabban and Houta. Despite the small success, tribes in Yemen were posed with a quandary on whether to join the momentum against AQAP, or remain loyal to the Al-Qaeda affiliated group.
The largest Awaliq tribe based in Abyan, west of Shabwa, released a statement during last year’s assault expressing discomfort that tribes have joined the UAE and US offensive last year. This was further bolstered when members of the Awaliq tribe were abducted in a counter-terrorism raid which led statements seeking revenge attacks against the UAE and US.
However, a 20-page report published in the US claims that AQAP has been weakened by UAE-backed forces in southern Yemen. But claims the progress may be exploited by Al-Qaeda as it resembles a “colonising force” in Yemen.
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.