Yemen: Fighting continues in Ma’rib and Taiz

Fighting continues in the Yemeni cities of Ma’rib and Taiz as the Arab coalition seek to cement their foothold in preparation for a campaign to restore the capital Sana’a to the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi. The Houthis reported via their television outlet Al-Maseerah that it had taken Emirati and Saudi hostages, ransoming the former in exchange for money. These reports could not be independently identified.

The Yemeni government led by Khaled Bahah returned to Aden this week to resume operations following months in Riyadh as it fled the Houthi onslaught which began in Saada far in the north and reached the Southern port city of Aden and forced the President and government personnel to flee. There had been growing concerns that the absence of the government had led to increased divisions amongst the government forces as Southerners began calling for an independent state whilst others privately spoke of frustration that the government were enjoying the ‘seven star treatment’ whilst ‘[we] do the fighting’.

Bahah’s return also signals growing confidence that the tide is turning against the Houthis and that the fall of Sana’a is simply a matter of time. However the developments do not necessarily suggest that the war is close to ending. The mountainous North differs from the South and heavy weaponry is of limited use. It is worth remembering former Defence Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan’s torrid campaign against the Houthis in 2009 as he struggled to combat their guerilla tactics. Even should Sana’a fall, talk of marching on Saada presents its own challenges. Officials privately express hope that the fall of Ma’rib and Taiz will be enough to push the Houthis to the negotiating table, averting a bloodbath in the capital.

Brief: Why is Yemen in a state of war?

  • The Houthis are a tribe in the North of Yemen. They have a history of warring with the government, with the latter engaging the former six times under the previous regime.
  • Despite these wars, the Houthis are in alliance with the very President who led these campaigns against them; Ali Abdullah Saleh.
  • The Houthis entered the Northern cities of Jawf and Amran under the pretext of fighting terrorism. This, they claimed, meant defeating the Islah Party, seen as the Yemeni equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood and staunch political opponents of the Houthis.
  • The Houthis marched on Sana’a, declaring support for the large protests against President Hadi over fuel prices and living costs.
  • The Houthis entered the capital and placed the president under house arrest. The President later fled to Aden.
  • The Houthis continued to expand to Taiz and Al-Daali’ in the South. Fighter planes were sent to bombard the presidential palace in Aden.
  • President Hadi subsequently fled and an Arab alliance was declared under Operation ‘Decisive Storm’ as Arab forces began bombarding Houthi positions to prevent the fall of Aden, seen as the last bastion of defence.
  • Saudi Arabia states that it wants to force the Houthis into genuine discussions with the government. They believe that the group are backed by Iran and fear an establishing of a powerful proxy similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Badr Brigade in Iraq. The Houthis claim that they are fighting a foreign power and leading a revolution.