Pro-government forces set sights on strategic Hodeida port

Yemeni government troops are roughly 8 miles from the city.
Wednesday 30/05/2018
Yemeni fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president gesturing and shout slogans as they stand on a road leading to the town of Khokha, which was retaken from Houthi rebels, about 120km south of the Houthi rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida.  (AFP)
Yemeni fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president gesturing and shout slogans as they stand on a road leading to the town of Khokha, which was retaken from Houthi rebels, about 120km south of the Houthi rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida. (AFP)

LONDON - Pro-government Yemeni forces are preparing for a large-scale assault on the Red Sea port of Hodeida in what could be the deciding factor in the 3-year war.

Yemeni government troops are roughly 8 miles from the city but need time to prepare for a “swift takeover with minimal casualties,” Ahmed al-Kawkabani, who leads a force known as Tohama Brigade, told the Associated Press.

“As long as the sons of Hodeida are fighting, they will enter the city no matter what,” he said. The coalition plans to ensure that the port keeps running without interruption, al-Kawkabani added.

Colonel Sadiq Duwaid, spokesman for the National Resistance, one of three main forces taking part in the operation, told Agence France-Presse that his fighters were “being bolstered by new forces… that will take part in retaking Hodeida.”

“First, we will cut off supply lines, especially between (rebel-held capital) Sana’a and Hodeida, then we will place the Houthis under siege and bring them down, perhaps without a fight,” he said.

Government forces, backed by coalition air strikes, have made advances along the western coast in recent weeks. Military experts expect the battle of Hodeida to be brief as the Guardians of the Republic, led by Tariq Saleh, son of the former president, are well trained and reportedly highly disciplined. They are mostly former members of the Guardians of the Republic, the Special Forces, and Anti-Terrorist Brigades,  dismantled after the Houthi coup in September 2014.

The port is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggling and has been instrumental in the their upgrading arms’ capabilities, evident by their missile attacks at Saudi Arabia.

The Hodeida offensive had been previously delayed over UN concerns over the possible humanitarian impact, with the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition calling for the port to be put under the control of international monitors on numerous occasions.

In December of last year, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presented the UN Security Council with what she described as irrefutable proof of Iran supplying Houthi rebels with weaponry.

“These are Iranian made, these are Iranian sent and these were Iranian given,” Haley said. “You will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing.”

Experts say liberating Hodeida should restore safety and security to navigation in the area and likely curtail smuggling operations from Iran.