Anti-Houthi coalition continues offensive despite setback
LONDON - As the war in Yemen continued for a fifth month, pro-government fighters supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition continued making gains despite a setback after a Houthi ambush resulted in the deaths of 65 fighters.
The August 18th ambush near the Aqaba Tharaa area, where anti-rebel forces were advancing from Abyan into Bayda province, resulted in the deaths of 15 Houthi rebels.
Saudi-led coalition warplanes pounded the Red Sea port of Hodeida, leading to condemnations from aid groups due to the Houthi-controlled port’s strategic importance in dispensing aid supplies. Saudi Ministry of Defence spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri said the strikes targeted a base where rebels had deployed anti-ship weapons.
“There is a naval base inside the port. This is where we struck last night,” he said.
The Arab coalition resumed air strikes in Sana’a after a three-week pause, residents said.
According to Sana’a-based Yemeni analyst Hakim Almasmari, 20% of aid is reaching the capital region, despite the north of the country being the most highly populated. The concentration of aid deliveries is in the south, where forces loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi are based.
“Things have been safe on the ground in Sana’a; however, air strikes stopped for three weeks but resumed yesterday (August 18th) and the airport in Sana’a was destroyed [August 19th],” Almasmari said.
Almasmari added that this will worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and that the price of food increased 200% in a week because of the closure of the airport and the ports, which are essential for the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial goods.
Infighting between the Iran-allied Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has taken a toll on the alliance, which some attribute as the reason behind the significant losses it has suffered since June.
“The Houthis know that pro- Saleh forces stabbed them in the back, especially in Aden and Taiz. However, they are still working together but the tension is there and it’s going to weaken the alliance in the long run,” Almasmari said.
“The Houthis believe that Saleh is the enemy from within but they can’t do anything about it in a time of war and the infighting is one of the reasons they have been losing in the last few weeks.”
The scope of Western involvement in the five-month war was made clearer when the Los Angeles Times reported that the success of the anti-Houthi forces was due to the Pentagon more than doubling the number of US advisers providing enhanced intelligence for air strikes.
According to the newspaper, the United States increased its advisory presence from 20 to 45 advisers at joint military operations centres in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The Financial Times reported that military advisers from the United Kingdom and United States were supporting the Saudi coordinated air strikes from an operations centre in Riyadh.
However a British Ministry of Defence source told The Arab Weekly that British military figures are working in a liaison capacity, which is part of a pre-existing agreement, as well as a number of ongoing projects and are not involved in the active training of anti-Houthi fighters.
In a related development, the United Arab Emirates blasted the Houthis for taking over its embassy in Sana’a, demanding their immediate exit.
“This act is further evidence that the group that committed this attack does not show any regard or respect for international conventions and diplomatic norms, as it practices the law of the jungle,” said a statement published by the official WAM news agency.
The Foreign Ministry “stressed that the occupation of the embassy and the eviction of its staff will not deter the UAE’s support for the restoration of stability to sisterly Yemen”.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition that launched an air war against the rebels on March 26th. The Houthis seized Sana’a in September 2014 and continued taking over parts of the rest of the country, which resulted in the UN-recognised government fleeing to Aden and then Saudi Arabia. Gulf Arab countries led by the Saudis intervened in the conflict to try to restore it to power.