Yemen: Aden’s changing alliances erupt into four-year conflict’s newest front



Members of the Southern Transitional Council’s forces at a checkpoint controlling the entrance to the port city of Aden.
Fighting in the south between separatists and government forces points to why peace is even more elusive
by Bethan McKernan in Aden and Marib. Photography by Achilleas Zavallis

Tue 1 Oct 2019


Every soldier in the Yemeni city of Aden is on edge. The main checkpoint on the coastal road has two large holes in the roof from mortar shells and the beach has been dug up into berms to slow the advance of any hostile vehicles.
The problem is that the 25 men milling around their posts are not sure what their enemy looks like. In the recent fighting which saw the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) eject from the city troops loyal to the exiled Yemeni president – their former allies – al-Qaida took advantage of the chaos, putting on STC uniforms to ambush the soldiers here.

“They raided every checkpoint up to this one,” said Munier al-Atifeh, 42, an STC soldier. “Terrorists, Islah [the Islamist bloc of the Yemeni government], what does it matter? They all want the same thing, which is to keep the south weak.”
More than four years in, Yemen’s conflict is now actually three wars in one: a fight between the Iran-backed northern Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations; a fight between both those parties and extremist elements such as al-Qaida and Islamic State; and belatedly, a fight between the STC, which wants a return to independence for south Yemen, and its former Yemeni government allies.


The ruins of a mosque that was bombed in 2015 during clashes with Houthi forces for control of the port city of Aden, seen on 9 September, 2019


The Guardian was invited by the STC to see the situation on the ground in Aden. What we found was a complicated tangle of separatist militias and politicians trying to consolidate control in a situation where alliances that may still exist on paper do not mean anything in reality. A situation that will make it even harder to bring an end to a war which has already killed an estimated 100,000 people and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Human cost of Yemen war laid bare as the death toll nears 100,000
Read more

After simmering hostility for years, the southerners and the government of the president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi came to blows thanks to the Houthis: a devastating drone and missile attack on a military parade in Aden last month killed more than 30 STC soldiers, including an important senior commander, Munir Mahmoud, known as Abu al-Yamama.

Southerners accused the Hadi government of disregarding the threat posed to southern forces by the Houthis by failing to share intelligence. Demonstrations and four days of intense fighting followed, killing dozens and driving men loyal to Hadi out of Aden’s presidential palace, military bases and airport.

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