US Intelligence Reveals Yemen’s Houthis Negotiating Weapons Deal with Somalia’s al-Shabaab, Officials Report

“This chat is buzzing with chatter from both sides of the Red Sea,” said an insider. “And it’s being taken dead serious.”

The alliance between these two factions, historically divided by sectarian rifts, is an oddity. The Houthis are Zaydi Shiites, while al-Shabaab has staunchly opposed Shiism. Despite no known prior ties, they’re only a hop across the Gulf of Aden away – a strategically substantial waterway – with a mutual enemy: the United States.

The intelligence suggests a grim possibility: a quid pro quo could spell trouble in Somalia, the Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden. Here, the Houthis have been striking commercial vessels and U.S. military resources since the Gaza conflict ignited.

A prospective pact could funnel fresh funds to the Houthis at a time when U.S. officials note Iran, their primary benefactor, seems jittery about their aggressive tactics. “Selling weapons could bring them much-needed cash,” noted a senior administration honcho.

For al-Shabaab, it could mean access to advanced armaments—perhaps even drones—beyond their current clunky firepower, thereby enabling strikes on U.S. targets.

While low-grade arms and commercial goods have been sporadically smuggled between Yemen and Somalia for years, a formal weapons deal would mark new terrain, according to U.S. officials.

“It would starkly demonstrate that two ideologically opposed factions are uniting over their shared antagonism toward the U.S.,” stated Christopher Anzalone, a Marine Corps University professor. “This shows there’s some pragmatic thinking in both camps.”

Any military collaboration between the Houthis and al-Shabaab could jeopardize a fragile truce between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, active since 2022, said the senior administration official. It would also flout a proposed UN peace roadmap, the official added.

“We’re committed to backing the roadmap process in Yemen,” the officer affirmed. “But such trafficking between the Houthis and al-Shabaab would surely complicate and disrupt our efforts.”

Officials aren’t clear on what arsenal the Houthis might provide al-Shabaab. The Somali militants typically wield rockets, mortars, and jury-rigged IEDs—effective, but modest. In contrast, the Houthis have armed drones, including aquatic variants, plus short-range ballistic missiles. The consensus is the deal involves heftier gear than just rockets and mortars, though specifics remain fuzzy.

No matter what exchanges occur, al-Shabaab’s capacity to target U.S. assets directly is likely limited. Even with smaller Houthi missiles, al-Shabaab would have to launch them from the north, where an emergent ISIS faction holds sway. Here, jihadist skirmishes constrain their operations.

“They’d jump at the chance,” Anzalone mused about striking U.S. assets. Al-Shabaab views Somalia’s government as a U.S. puppet. But, he added, “I think they’d struggle. This region sees fierce Shabaab-ISIS infighting.”

The U.S. has roughly 480 troops stationed in Somalia, confirmed a U.S. official. The U.S. continues counterterrorism strikes aimed at both al-Shabaab and ISIS under the Biden administration.

A significant question for U.S. intelligence is how entangled Iran might be in this scheme. While no direct proof exists, officials are still probing. This fits Iran’s broader strategy of inflaming tensions against the U.S. and the West by arming proxy groups either directly or indirectly.

“We’re keeping an eye on that,” remarked the senior administration official.

However, the Houthis are notably independent compared to other Iran-linked groups, exerting minimal control over Tehran. Iran has cautiously managed potential escalation from the Gaza war, carefully balancing its responses to challenge the U.S. and Israel without igniting direct conflict.

Some U.S. officials remain skeptical of Iran’s involvement.

“I doubt Iran’s in on this,” said a military officer. “Houthis run their own show.”

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