Diverging Saudi and Emirati priorities will likely undermine campaign in Yemen, sustaining threat of jihadist expansion


Key Points

  • The Saudi-led coalition is struggling to organise and co-ordinate its Yemeni proxies, which is prompting infighting but also contributing to a growing jihadist presence and activity in Aden and elsewhere.
  • Expanding jihadist activity is likely to further reduce Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s appetites for relying on their own ground forces, resorting instead to contingents of non-GCC forces and Yemeni proxies for offensive and security operations.
  • The coalition’s failure to secure any major Yemeni province after months of conflict will probably ensure tribal groups across the country continue to prioritise cultivating their relationships with local non-state armed groups and factions controlling patronage networks, including with the Houthi Movement, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in particular, as opposed to committing to supporting the coalition’s ongoing military operations, or any government it is backing.


Presidential guards at the Maasheeq palace in Aden fought on 3 November with militiamen in southern popular committees due to delays in the latter’s salary payments; popular committees are fragmented local forces that are tasked with manning checkpoints and policing the city.

The Saudi-led coalition has so far failed to guarantee security in Aden, or to facilitate the relocation of the Yemeni government from its temporary base in Riyadh, since the city’s capture from Houthi Movement militias and defected military forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in July 2015. Delayed wages and infighting between pro-government forces in Aden indicates that the coalition is struggling to unify and co-ordinate fragmented local forces.

Jihadists have been exploiting the sustained security vacuum in Aden to maintain an assassination and improvised explosive device (IED) attack campaign targeting pro-government forces and officials, and effectively undermining state authority. The latest confirmed attack specifically targeting United Arab Emirates forces involved a fatal drive-by shooting, which killed an Emirati serviceman on 17 October.


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