Yemen: With a Major Attack, the Houthi Threat Returns to Aden

3 MINS READAug 1, 2019 | 19:54 GMT
The Big Picture

Yemen's civil conflict between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi and Iran-aligned Houthi rebel forces shows no sign of stopping even as important Yemeni coalition partners like the United Arab Emirates are readjusting their force posture in the country.

What Happened

Yemen's Houthi rebel forces killed at least 40 people Aug. 1 in a complex attack on a military parade in the port city of Aden involving a ballistic missile and drone. The victims included members of the Security Belt, a local force trained and supported by the United Arab Emirates. Eyewitnesses said the ballistic missile struck directly behind the speaker's dais after a general had just concluded a speech. The Houthis said they used a medium-range ballistic missile and an explosives-laden Qasef-2K drone to conduct the attack, which killed Brig. Gen. Monier al Yafie.

Why It Matters 

Tactically, the incident highlights the Houthis' ability to launch sophisticated and deadly attacks throughout Yemen. Its coordinated nature establishes that the Houthis are becoming more proficient at executing attacks using ballistic missiles and drones, capabilities the Houthis have and will use in future attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Hitting a military parade in progress and a speaker's dais shows the Houthis managed to collect actionable intelligence in Aden.

The Houthis might be trying to show their ongoing ability to challenge the Saudi-led coalition in a bid to undermine U.N.-backed political negotiations.

Politically, the attack is notable as a Houthi effort to return to the Aden theater in a big way. While tribal, criminal and jihadist violence is commonplace in the port city, Houthi forces have not been able to conduct such a significant attack on Saudi coalition-led Yemeni forces there since the Houthis' 2015 expulsion from Aden. The Houthis might be trying to show their ongoing ability to challenge the Saudi-led coalition in a bid to undermine U.N.-backed political negotiations, which tend to favor the internationally-backed Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition. The attack could also have represented a bid to test how well the Emiratis — who recently withdrew their forces from parts of Yemen — can hold together the loose umbrella of coalition forces fighting for the Yemeni government. It could also have aimed to undermine the morale of coalition forces in the wake of the Emirati withdrawals.

The attack took place in the heart of the zone of influence of the Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group typically aligned with the central Yemeni government in the fight against Houthi rebels, and with strong political ties to the United Arab Emirates. In killing the council-aligned al Yafie, the Houthis might now face retaliation from the southern separatist group, though the group so far has urged its followers to exercise patience.


Houthis lost control of Aden to Gulf Cooperation Council-backed Yemeni coalition forces in 2015 after several months of holding the strategic port city, Yemen's second-most important commercial center after the capital, Sanaa. Since 2015, Houthi attacks there had not been nearly as deadly as their Aug. 1 attack. For example, a ballistic missile launched by Houthis in September 2018 was intercepted in the city, causing no casualties. The first Houthi drone attack on the coalition base in Aden was thwarted in July 2018 when coalition forces downed the drone. Overall, the Houthis have significantly increased their drone attacks across Yemen in 2019, including a January attack targeting another military parade in southwestern Lahij province and over 30 attacks in Saudi Arabia.

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