SANAA, Yemen — On a rocky hill overlooking the Arabian Sea in the city of Aden sits the palace of Yemen’s internationally recognized president. It’s one of the few safe places in the country for him and his government, protected by troops at the gates, artillery and truck-mounted machine guns in the surrounding mountains and ships at sea.
The rest of the southern city remains unstable. Only a 10 minute drive from the palace, a suicide bomber struck days ago at the Sawlaban military base, killing 52 soldiers. It was the fourth time militants have hit the base in the past six months. All told, the attacks have killed more than 180 people.
The bombings underscore how President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his main backer, the Saudi-led coalition, have failed to bring stability to the southern territories that his government controls in the civil war with Shiite Houthi rebels. Yemen’s second largest city and once its commercial hub, Aden was intended to be a model of Hadi’s legitimacy. Instead it has become a sign of Yemen’s woes.
Multiple armed groups compete for influence, chief among them a force known as the Security Belt, created and funded by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and their allies. Commanded mainly by Muslim ultraconservatives, it has been accused by critics of heavy-handed methods, abusing opponents and resisting Hadi’s authority.
Aden was where Hadi’s government made its last stand after the Houthis and allied troops loyal to a former president overran the capital Sanaa in 2014, took over much of the north and stormed south. Hadi was forced to flee the country, and a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched its intervention in March 2015, preventing Aden from falling. By July of that year, coalition-backed southern fighters pushed the rebels out of much of the south.
Hadi’s government hoped the restoration of Aden would mark the beginning of the end for the Houthis. But 18 months later, the rebels still control Sanaa and much of the north, while security remains elusive in the south. Hadi moves back and forth between Aden and the Saudi capital Riyadh, most recently arriving in the Yemeni city in late November.
Suicide bombings and assassinations, mostly by al Qaeda and the Islamic State group’s local affiliate, regularly target top military and government officials, army recruits and senior Muslim clerics. Aden’s governor and security chief were assassinated last year. In October 2015, the then-prime minister and his entire Cabinet came under attack by suicide bombers at a five-star hotel in the heart of the city.
Aden residents have burned tires and blocked roads in protests against fuel shortages, power cuts, delayed salaries and a lack of services. Others hold demonstrations demanding that southern Yemen, which was independent until 1990, secede again.