Saudi-Backed Troops Show Progress over Iran-backed Houthis
Murder of Selah sends his Republican Guard to Hadi column
[Sana’a, Yemen] Troops loyal to Yemen’s internationally-recognized government under President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has shown progress since Wednesday in its battle against the Iranian-backed Houthis. The, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, were able to secure the Red Sea port of al-Khokha port and its surrounding areas, as well as the Abu Musa al-Asha’ari Camp, the most important military base in the area. The anti-rebel forces are now only about 40 miles from the area’s primary west coast port, Hodeidah.
Abdulrahim Hajri, the commander of the troops, told The Media Line that his troops’ progress was spurred-on by the addition to its ranks of two Republican Guard units that joined the ranks after the Houthis captured and killed former president Ali Abdullah Selah, the Guards’ iconic leader.
The Yemeni soldiers are supported on the ground by UAE and Sudanese troops as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Additionally, the coalition provides air cover for its forces. The coalition is also striking against Houthi bases outside of Sana’a in order to weaken their defenses in preparation for the advancement of ground troops.
The latest progress on the ground is generating excitement and optimism as the government forces near Hodeidah airport, the hope being that the humanitarian crisis will ease as goods resume a normal flow through the port.
“We saw that around 30 Houthis were killed and we hope that the liberation of Hodeidah port will mean the port can open again for commercial use,” said Humaid Dawbala a local of Khokha town to TML reporter in Sana’a.
According to political analysts, the Houthis were weakened when Saleh broke his alliance with them a few days before he was killed. Political analyst Mohammed Jumaih explained that the legitimate Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition have used this opportunity to integrate Saleh’s loyalists into the anti-Houthi resistance to result in the progress that has been shown in ground skirmishes leading to the capital Sana’a — which has been a stand-off for the last two years.
Yet, it remains to be seen whether the Hadi troops will be able to continue their progress which is dependent on the support they receive from the heavily armed tribes surrounding Sana’a. The tribes have been siding with the Houthi-Saleh alliance since 2014, but with the events of the past two weeks – Saleh changing loyalties and then being killed — their position has not been clear.
According to the Red Cross, the clashes in Sana’a between Saleh and the Houthis last week claimed 234 lives and injured 400 Yemenis, the majority of whom were civilians. Since the killing of Saleh and the Houthis stronghold of the capital, Saleh’s supporters have been hunted down by the Houthis in a form of intimidation and extortion. Many members of Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress, have either escaped the capital to join Hadi’s loyalists in Marib, or stayed in their homes isolating themselves from the conflict.
Initial attempts by the GPC to demand handing over of Saleh’s body were faced with violence by the Houthis who arrested over 50 women who went out on a protest on Friday, said Nora al-Jarawi a GPC leader in the party’s women section to The Media Line. Many GPC leaders including women are under house arrest, including the head of the civil society section at the GPC, Ms. Faiqa al-Said, who said on Facebook that her house is surrounded by Houthis and she is not allowed to leave until further notice.
The attack against GPC leaders has driven many of them to side with President Hadi who is currently the highest-ranking official of the party. However, there are already some signs of divisions within Saleh’s affiliates as some of the leaders now based in Cairo are instead interested in supporting Saleh’s son who had been residing in UAE for the past three years.
Those who support the internationally-recognized Hadi government are hopeful that the shift in the Republican Guards’ position– and who were originally deployed in Taiz fighting with the Houthis to gain control of the embattled city — could mean that Taiz resistance will finally be able to gain grounds against the Houthis. The liberation of Hodiedah port and Taiz, if sustained, will drastically improve the humanitarian situation in the country within a very short period.