top of page
  • Writer's pictureKhalil Dewan

How Do Yemen’s Houthis & AQAP “Counter” Drones? A Look At Open Sources - Bellingcat

The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Houthi armed group are dealing with drone strikes in Yemen in starkly different ways.

Open source investigation reveals that AQAP are on the defensive over the threat of U.S. reconnaissance and armed drones, leading them to desperately convey to their members to avoid being intercepted for locational intelligence.

In juxtaposition, the Houthis have projected a far more aggressive propaganda narrative on defeating the threat of drones and aerospace threats by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. AQAP and Houthi sources, however, cannot not be used exclusively as evidence when assessing strategy, tactics, and overall internal discussion on how these groups are countering drones — the chance for falling for propaganda is otherwise too high.

Basic Findings

  • AQAP are highly defensive over the threat of U.S. drone strikes and are warning their members to avert locational intelligence capture by placing a ban on the use of telecoms, and prohibiting the sharing of operational activity with “martial partners” or fellow soldiers who may “talk too much”. Many high-profile commanders and ideologues with the group have been successfully targeted and killed by drone, for example Naseer Al-Wuhayshi.

  • AQAP claimed in a 38-minute video titled “Secrets, its [sic] Dangers and the Departure of the Best of Us” that alleged spies of Arab descent have infiltrated their ranks and are directly supporting locational intelligence for drone strikes, verifying on the ground targets, and sending that information back for targeted killings.

  • By contrast, the Houthi group’s official propaganda have been on the offensive against air strikes. The Houthis have utilised propaganda videos, speeches, and infographics to boost morale against the threat of drones.

The Houthi Propaganda “Offensive” Based on open source Houthi media monitoring, it is clear that the group has attempted to make movement members and sympathisers confident that Houthis have the capability to defend threats posed by drone strikes.

Between October 2017 and January 2018, the Houthis published video footage on their social media network of what they alleged to be a U.S. surveillance drone that, they said, was shot down from the sky.

Muhammad Al-Bukhaithi, a senior Houthi politburo figure, told me in an interview that the “U.S. have not targeted us with air strikes or drones, but they are supporting Saudi Arabia with our [locational] positions.” He also added that the U.S. is “providing weapons to the Saudi-led coalition.”

The following are screen-grabs of a video clip shared on Houthi Telegram and associated websites of a drone taken down in Sana’a, which is currently under the effective control of the Houthi group. The MQ-9, as claimed by the Houthis, was, they said, shot down by the Houthis on October 1, 2017. The video showed graphics that alleged that the Houthis obtained the weapons capable of striking drones, creating a suggestion that the group may possess the capability to destroy conventional threats.

It should be noted, however, that the photos Houthis provided in their drone propaganda do not match the silhouette of the MQ-9.

Houthi drone propaganda October 2017/January 2018 — note that the wings are not perpendicular to the body and the tail is much shorter in the alleged photos of the drone in the sky

On November 24, 2018, the Houthi group claimed to have destroyed two drones belonging to the Saudi-led coalition on the West coast of Yemen. The following pictures were disseminated across the Houthi-run Masirah news website in addition to the Houthi open source networks.

The drones were “smaller” ones — as seen in the pictures below. There was also a video on the official Houthi Telegram channel, showing the drones in closer detail. This suggests that the Houthis want their followers to believe that the group has the capability in destroying drones of varying sizes — but once again, one cannot make definitive conclusions based on propaganda alone. Pictures can easily be manipulated in a variety of ways. One should also note that drones can crash all on their own — and with a smaller drone especially, one must be skeptical about equating wreckage with a shootdown. Hexacopter drones in particular are easy to lose control of, and there is no evidence available on open source to prove that the Houthis shot these small drones down.

In 2017, the Houthis claimed to have shot down Saudi-led coalition drones. These photos, however, do not serve as evidence that the drones were shot down — and it is impossible to definitively say whom they belonged to. Source: Telegram On June 7, 2019, the Houthi group reported on its official Telegram channel that they destroyed a U.S. MQ-9 drone over the west coast of Yemen. The following screen grabs show the notification sent to its followers: SEE LINK FOR FULL INVESTIGATION ON BELLINGCAT'S WEBSITE:

38 views0 comments
bottom of page