Since a Houthi missile attack killed at least 60 Gulf Arab troops east of Sanaa recently, the coalition has stepped up its air strikes on the capital Sanaa and increased its deployment of troops, which Yemeni officials say number a few thousand, ahead of an eventual push towards the capital Sanaa.
The first Egyptian ground troops to join the fight against Houthi rebels arrived in Yemen on Sept. 8. About 800 Egyptian soldiers arrived as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, joining thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Gulf State jets have pounded the Yemen capital repeatedly in an escalation of their air strike campaign that was seen as retaliation for the massacre of dozens of Emirati troops. Saudi-led coalition warplanes targeted military positions belonging to the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s former president, who have jointly seize swathes of the country from government control this year. Residents said the air strikes had targeted buildings in Sana’a previously seized by the Houthis and used as headquarters, including the Saudi and Emirati embassies. “The Houthis and Saleh troops are taking headquarters in civilian buildings to use civilians as human shields,” said resident Abdul Rahman. “While we’ve heard the sound of the blasts continuing for three days, we don’t know for sure what’s going. The city is being dismembered.”
The recent air strikes on Sana’a mark the latest intensification of a war that has killed more than 4,500 people, devastated Yemen’s already-crumbling infrastructure, and called its future as a unified state into question. The focus on the engagement of infrastructure targets suggests that the coalition is not developing troop concentration targets and that the intelligence support from the US may not be time sensitive.
While, the Houthi rebels have launched their own campaign to shell cities under government control, such as Taiz. In the latest escalation of Yemen’s five-month war, Houthi rebels said they’ve fired a Scud missile into Saudi Arabia. The Shiite fighters and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh launched the missile into the southern Jazan province, the Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry said. In June, the Saudi military shot down a Scud missile bound for the southwestern town of Khamis Mushait. The Houthis are targeting locations inside Saudi Arabia most likely in an effort to raise morale among their fighters.
Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition, told Al Jazeera television that Saudi forces have taken control of some areas in Yemen’s Saada province to stop mortar shells and Katyusha rocket attacks against Saudi territory. He said operations in the area started early in the war. The picture with the report showed a Saudi Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Since all of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles are in two brigades that are routinely based in Tabuk (the capitol of the north-western most province of Saudi Arabia that borders on the Red Sea and Jordan.) This suggests that some extensive redeployments have occurred.
Dominating the early phase of the conflict, the Shiite rebels are now seeking to reverse the progress made by forces loyal to President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi. The president’s forces, backed by Saudi-led airstrikes and an officially unspecified number of ground troops, have ejected the Houthis from most of the areas they captured in southern Yemen. The author’s unofficial estimate of the forces on the ground in southern Yemen include an Emirati brigade, an Egyptian infantry battalion, Saudi logistical and Special Forces. The Scud attack isn’t a game-changer. “It’s clear who has the upper hand when you pitch the world’s biggest arms buyer against the Houthis, even with the hardware they have,” said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London. Attacking Saudi territory is likely to cement support for the war inside Saudi Arabia.
On another front in the complex war, the al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, long the top concern for American officials in the country, has meanwhile capitalized on the chaos. Al Qaeda militants currently control Mukalla, capital of Hadramawt, Yemen’s largest province. While the Saudi-led coalition has yet to launch any attacks against al Qaeda — the Sunni extremist group is also a foe of the Houthis and might be seen by the kingdom’s forces as assisting in their effort — American drone strikes have sporadically hit suspected militant sites. Last week an alleged US drone strike in Mukallah left five members of al Qaeda dead.
The Yemeni army has recruited 4,800 southern fighters following a presidential decision to integrate loyalist militiamen who helped push Iran-backed rebels out of second city Aden. “This brigade has 4,800 fighters, including soldiers and officers. The Salman Decisiveness Brigade is named after the Saudi king, whose country has led the campaign in support of Hadi since late March. This name may have been chosen so that the soldiers could get paid. Recent reports indicate that members of the brigade demonstrated in Aden in order to get back pay.
The most recent event is that a government source told the Reuters news agency that Mr Hadi, the Yemeni President who had been in Exile in Riyadh would spend the festival of Eid al-Adha in Aden before flying to New York to address the UN. This was no doubt an effort to show that Aden is secure and that the coalition is making progress. His presence may also indicate that the coalition forces have cleaned up the Al Qaeda and Houthi terrorist who were said to be running freely in Aden.
The war in Yemen has been ignored by most of the world. As reported it is a complex proxy war with many more than two sides. The divisions and sides suggest that it may continue to simmer for some time unless the Saudi led coalition is willing to commit untold resources to rebuild the country and impose unity, which has not really existed in recent time.