The attack on a liquefied natural gas pipeline on Sunday was the latest security incident in the oil and gas-rich Shabwa province in southern Yemen. This incident and other security breaches in government-controlled areas represent a serious challenge to the authority of the Presidential Leadership Council, which was chosen during Gulf Cooperation Council-facilitated Yemeni talks in Riyadh earlier this month.
The province’s newly appointed governor, Awadh bin Al-Wazir Al-Awlaqi, said on Monday that the attack was a “terrorist destructive act,” accusing unnamed “terrorist groups” of carrying it out. He said that the attack provided evidence that terrorist groups are living their final days but also attempting to sabotage the process of restoring security and stability in Yemen and divert the PLC’s attention.
This was not the first incident of sabotage of oil and gas installations or pipes in Yemen or even in Shabwa. During the best of times there were attacks, which gradually led to the flight of foreign operators and a sharp reduction in oil and gas production throughout Yemen. As oil and gas have long been a key source of government revenue, these disruptions have put severe pressure on its ability to provide basic services.
However, Sunday’s attack was the first of its kind since the conclusion of the GCC-hosted Yemeni talks. It came a few days after Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed had announced his government’s decision to resume LNG production to help pay the salaries of government employees and stabilize the national currency.
The Yemen war has produced an unprecedented breakdown in the rule of law throughout the country, albeit its severity has varied regionally. In Houthi-controlled areas, lawlessness from the top has been the primary tool for political and social control, but it has also been used by individual leaders for financial gain. Assassinations, kidnappings, torture and wholesale detentions have been sanctioned by the group against its political opponents. It has become routine practice to blow up adversaries’ homes, mete out collective punishment against tribes not fulfilling their quota of recruits, and defile and board up mosques not following their religious instructions.
By contrast, violence in government-held areas comes from many sources, including terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Houthi agents. The Houthis were last year able to briefly capture parts of Shabwa, with the help of some local agents, before being driven out, but future attacks by the militia cannot be ruled out. However, violence in Shabwa and other government-held areas also comes as a result of fighting between political groups over influence and among criminal elements of all sorts over turf. In Shabwa, high rates of addiction to the local variety of shabu, an amphetamine-based drug used throughout Asia, is also blamed for a spate of incidents involving traffickers, distributors and addicts.
While the authorities have yet to pin down responsibility for the attack on the LNG pipeline or other recent incidents in Shabwa, there has been plenty of speculation about the perpetrators. Some sources have accused AQAP of carrying out some of the attacks, including Sunday’s bombing of the pipeline, while others have suggested that the Houthis were indirectly behind the latest incident. Most likely, there are multiple groups and individuals behind the security breaches, with both political and criminal motives.
Regardless of who the perpetrators are, the recurring attacks underscore the need to implement the security recommendations of the Riyadh talks. Several governors, law enforcement officials and experts discussed the security situation in government-held areas. More than a dozen working papers and policy proposals were considered, identifying serious political, administrative and financial challenges that have weakened the rule of law in those areas. Among the key recommendations to address those challenges was the need to speed up the implementation of the Riyadh Accord of 2019, which was agreed between the government and the Southern Transitional Council, to reduce the number of politically-motivated attacks.
Some of the other recommendations focused on the need for coordination among security forces and the armed forces. In areas where coordination is low, some law enforcement capacity has been reduced as security forces have to lie low and leave control to the militias. Participants also called for better coverage of secured communications between the security forces, better training and improved governance to weed out corruption.
The recurring attacks underscore the need to implement the security recommendations of the Riyadh talks.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Echoing those understandings, Al-Awlaqi on Monday called for enhanced protection of the oil and LNG pipes, improved preparedness in the military and security forces, and increased security patrols throughout his province.
One of the key outcomes of the Riyadh talks was the decision to set up a joint military and security committee under the PLC with a wide mandate. While its focus is to coordinate the work of the armed forces to prevent conflict between them, it is also charged with coordinating between the military and internal security forces. By demarcating the lines of responsibility, law enforcement agencies will feel safe to carry out their duties and focus on protection, prevention and fighting crime and terrorism.