Yemeni Resilience

Rear Adm. Abdullah Salim Ali Abdullah Al-Nakhai helps rebuild naval forces


The people of Yemen are known for their patience, courage and the sacrifices they make for the sake of their homeland. The esteemed poet Abdullah Abdul Wahab Naaman said of the Yemeni people: 

“We were never ever divided, nor ever torn. 

We have never set a bouquet on fire just to watch it burn.”

Patience and sacrifice are required by men and leaders for the sake of their nations’ interests. They guide their people toward a hopeful outcome, despite the continuous challenges and ordeals facing a Yemen riddled with wounds, conflict and strife.

In this interview, we meet such a Yemeni leader — Rear Adm. Abdullah Salim Ali Abdullah Al-Nakhai, commander of the country’s Naval and Coastal Defense Forces. Adm. Abdullah is a first-class professional commander who shuns attention. He is widely respected by his Soldiers and colleagues. The admiral believes that navigating the nation toward security and stability requires strenuous efforts and a strong will to transcend and overcome challenging winds.

Unipath: The infrastructure, buildings, and facilities of Yemeni Naval Forces have suffered grievous damage. Is there a plan to restore the readiness of the Naval and Coastal Defense forces?

The Naval Forces are responsible for the protection of the Yemeni coastline on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. The coastline extends over 2,000 kilometers, and it is no easy task to secure it all. The forces are composed of the leadership of the Naval and Coastal Defenses forces, floating naval units, coastal defense units and the Marine Corps. The Air Force has several naval military bases, such as the naval base near Al Mukalla in the Hadhramaut governorate, the Tawahi and Al Hudaydah naval bases in the Aden governorate, the Bir Ali base in the Shabwa governorate, and the base on Socotra Island.

The infrastructure of the Naval and Coastal Defense forces has been destroyed. It is thus necessary to maintain, restore and rebuild the foundations and promote development, especially following the destruction of naval vessels. Vessel repair stations have been set up in Al Hudaydah, Aden and Al Mukalla. Vessels there have been destroyed and are in need of comprehensive structural equipment, installations and materials to keep up with developments in the maritime sector. Destruction was not limited to naval installations. Educational facilities, like the Naval Institute and Naval School, were also destroyed.

Despite all of this destruction, we are continuing to make efforts to restore the readiness of the Naval and Coastal Defense Forces. We have presented a comprehensive plan that includes an urgent program of requirements to restore the readiness of the Navy and rebuild infrastructure, installations and facilities. However, this will take a great deal of time, as well as material and human input. We hope to prepare the Navy so that it is able to protect our territorial waters, as well as our great wealth in fish stocks from overfishing. We have great ambitions to build a professional and national naval force loyal to God and country.

Unipath: How are other countries cooperating in terms of training and preparation?

There is a great deal of cooperation with other friendly countries and allies, both in specialized training and preparation and training in colleges and graduate schools in these countries. These countries include Pakistan, Great Britain, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. We believe that the stability, security and safety of the region fundamentally depends on our joint cooperation. Together, we must confront all the risks that threaten regional security and undermine the stability and safety of our countries and peoples. This depends on the strength of our relations within a framework that meets everyone’s interests, especially in light of the growing threat of terrorism in Yemen, the Arabian Gulf and the world.

Unipath: Piracy in Yemen’s territorial waters poses a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation and shipping in the most important waterways. What are the challenges that Yemen is facing in its fight against piracy?

The most important challenge is Yemen’s strategic location on the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Arabian Sea. Other challenges include the domestic political, military and security situations, as well as the various terrorist organizations here at home and in nearby areas such as Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The coasts of the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb have witnessed a noticeable increase in piracy. This situation has threatened international navigation and shipping and regional maritime security in an unprecedented manner. This has prompted the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to categorize these waters as “the most dangerous shipping area” in the world. In light of Yemen’s realization of the seriousness of this criminal phenomenon, the country has affirmed its will to continue fighting maritime piracy and armed robbery of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast.

Yemen’s Navy has taken numerous urgent measures and actions to curb piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb. It has begun to intensify its presence and security controls in the country’s territorial waters. Yemen has also signed an agreement to establish a regional center in Sanaa to combat piracy featuring cooperation between Yemen’s Ministry of Transportation and the International Maritime Organization. They will coordinate among the countries bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The goal is to exchange information and manage shared efforts to combat piracy in conjunction with international forces on the order of the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions and Intelligence Coordination Center.

For those of us in the Naval and Coastal Defense Forces, the biggest challenge we face is the destruction of our naval units and the lack of preparedness of some boats. Additionally, control centers, surveillance, and alarms play a part in combating piracy to ensure the security of our coasts, waters and shipping lanes. Likewise, since maritime piracy represents a terrorist threat, we need to cooperate with our partners in preparing special units similar to the Marines and distribute them across the ports of Aden, Al Hudaydah and Al Mukalla, and around Socotra Island. It is also necessary to establish maritime monitoring and surveillance stations with radar to monitor piracy at sea and smuggling operations that are active in environments difficult to monitor on the coastline.

Unipath: Can you talk about your personal and professional life? 

I am married with four boys and one girl. On April 7, 2016, I was appointed by presidential decree as commander of the Yemeni Naval and Coastal Defense Forces and promoted to the rank of general. Before that, I worked in various positions, such as commander of missile boats, commander of artillery boats, director of the Maritime Training Department, head of the Navigation Division and leadership training for the Navy, and director of the Naval School for the Naval and Coastal Defenses. I have participated in numerous domestic and international seminars and discussions, such as those in Washington, D.C., Sanaa, Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.

In 1986, I received a bachelor’s degree in maritime navigation in Baku, the Republic of Azerbaijan, formerly in the Soviet Union. I also received a master’s in military studies, leadership, and foundation in 1999 from the Supreme Military Academy in Damascus, Syria. I then received a fellowship from the Supreme War College in Sanaa from 2011 to 2012. Additionally, I actively participated in short courses and training such as, but not limited to, private sessions with commanders of artillery ships and missile boats and commanders of battalions, squadrons and naval divisions.