What You Need to Know About Amjad Khaled
Amjad Khaled, the young commander in the middle of Aden’s fragile truce (profile)
He led a resistance front against the Houthis, purged his district of Al-Qaeda militants, and commanded a military brigade in the recent UAE-backed coup attempt in Aden – all by the age of 31. Now, Brigadier Amjad Khaled has returned home to Aden to help monitor the implementation of the recently signed Riyadh Agreement. This profile provides a closer look at one of the most influential local military figures in Aden, and helps to explain why he has become the subject of considerable praise – and criticism – amongst Yemenis.
In August 2019, clashes erupted in Aden between government forces and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), or more specifically the pro-STC Security Belt and Elite Forces, which are UAE-funded paramilitary groups nominally under the Yemeni Ministry of Interior. The clashes escalated, including Emirati airstrikes on Yemeni troops that killed dozens, and the government called it a “coup” attempt. Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik and his government were forced to flee the interim capital of Aden, and UAE-aligned forces took over major state institutions around the city.
Diplomatic intervention by Saudi Arabia, followed by weeks of joint negotiations in Jeddah, culminated in a landmark agreement reached in Riyadh that charts a path for the Yemeni government to return to Aden, and legitimizes its sole authority to govern the country. The Riyadh Agreement, signed by the Yemeni government and the STC on November 5, includes a number of annexes stipulating political, security, and military integration of the STC and affiliated local armed groups into the Yemeni government.
Amjad Khaled, commander of the Transport Brigade and a native of Aden’s Dar Sad district, was appointed by President Hadi as a member of the military committee to monitor the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. During the clashes in August, he fought against the STC and its affiliates in some of the deadliest infighting since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015. Amjad’s brother was killed by Security Belt Forces, who entered his house during the coup attempt in Aden, and several Transport Brigade troops were killed or injured in the fighting.
The events in Aden were neither fully unexpected nor unprecedented: In January 2018, a similar escalation occurred, and with near identical local and regional actors – including Amjad and his Transport Brigade clashing with UAE-backed forces. However, territorial control remained relatively unchanged in that battle, and the UAE-backed forces capitulated swiftly following intervention by Saudi Arabia. The recent battle for Aden, in contrast, saw an emboldened STC maintain captured territory and negotiate strongly for a seat at the table.
Unlike the 2018 battle, more recently Amjad was forced to leave Aden along with other key figures on the government side, and his brigade was relocated to Abyan. On November 22 Amjad returned to Aden, as a member of the military committee formed by President Hadi to monitor the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. The committee members are supposed to disarm the military camps inside Aden and restructure the military according to what is stipulated in the military annex of the agreement.
A warm welcome
Upon his return to Aden, Amjad was welcomed by many, especially locals in his home district of Dar Sad, where many of his troops are drawn from. However, there has also been a notable upsurge in criticism and allegations levelled against him by STC supporters and UAE-aligned influencers. Allegations have included that Amjad supports the pro-northern regime, that he is working with the Islah Party, and that he supports terrorist groups. Salafi Sheikh Hani Bin Buraik, who is vice president of the STC and the UAE’s right-hand man in Aden, wrote to his wide following online that Amjad Khaled must be “brought to justice.”
This opposition appears to have come as a result of the warm welcome he received among a considerable portion of locals, likely out of concern that Amjad can play a key role in rallying support for the government should opposition be encountered with the implementation of the agreement. Throughout the recent events, locals in Dar Sad and Sheikh Othman districts showed strong support for Amjad. He grew up in Dar Sad, and has worked in both districts for several years, having handled the security there and achieved a degree of stability, and he succeeded in unifying the various anti-Houthi resistance groups that existed in those districts.
“When I act in accordance with their agenda I am a good guy, but when I act counter to their interests – which serve outsiders – then I become the bad guy,” Amjad told Almasdar Online following his return to Aden. “This is how they see us, the way they see us is tailored to their agenda not the reality or the facts.”
Amjad is not affiliated to any political party, viewing it as his national duty to remain apolitical, and is understood to be inclined toward Salafism but does not consider himself a Salafist. He grew up in Aden, and unlike most of the other commanders involved in the recent clashes, he traces his roots to Aden rather than Al-Dhale’a, Lahj, Shabwa, or Abyan governorates. He graduated from a military college in the UAE, and was an instructor at the military college in Sana’a until returning to Aden because of the Houthi coup in 2014. Shortly after, when the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh pushed south to Aden, he led a resistance front and was one of the key commanders on the ground.
Through his role earlier in the resistance, and subsequently in forming the Transport Brigade, Amjad has close connections to many key commanders, including 4th Presidential Protection Brigade commander Mehran Al-Qubati. Though a formal military brigade under the Fourth Military Region, in reality the Transport Brigade has often been considered more as a ‘resistance brigade’, and Amjad has historically coordinated directly with Nasser Hadi, who is the son of President Hadi.
Throughout the conflict Amjad has stressed his nationalist outlook and pledged loyalty to the Yemeni government, while at the same time he maintained good relations with the UAE. Amjad has visited Emirati officials in the UAE on multiple occasions, and there was close coordination especially in the resistance front against the Houthis earlier in the war. It was not until the most recent – and most significant – clashes in Aden that Amjad took a clear position that was not only in support of President Hadi, but directly opposed to the armed actions of the UAE and its local proxies.
The recent battle in Aden exposed for the first time a rift between the UAE and Saudi Arabia over each country’s priorities in the larger war. Given the UAE’s reported drawdown of troops in several areas of Yemen, and Saudi Arabia’s lead role in facilitating the Riyadh Agreement, there is speculation that Saudi Arabia may be looking to take on a more hands-on role in Aden moving forward. “Regardless of Saudi Arabia or the UAE taking over Aden, Yemenis should depend on themselves to lead the country and to lead the security sector,” Amjad said. “No one can help you unless you help yourself.”