U.A.E. and Saudi Troops Land In Force in Yemen, Advancing Coalition Fight against Houthis

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Yesterday reports poured in across social media, and the newswires of a substantial armor and mechanized force landing at the Port of Aden and moving into the city. Reports of approximately 3,000 U.A.E. conventional troops utilizing Main battle Tanks and armored personnel carriers landed at the Port of Aden. Aden was retaken by Yemeni forces in mid-July, with the assistance of Saudi and UAE Special Operations Forces (SOF). Saudi SOF personnel have also recently been seen at Aden’s airport, securing the offloading of military equipment arriving via air transport.

Aden is the most significant city in Southern Yemen, and was the city that Yemeni President Hadi retreated to before ultimately fleeing the country when Aden fell to the Iranian-backed Houthis. The Saudi-backed Yemeni forces are now advancing north from Aden towards the city of Taiz, having successfully taken a major airbase held by the Houthis at An-Anad yesterday, according to Reuters:

“The national army and the popular resistance have completed control of the Al-Anad military and air base,” the operation commander, Brig.-General Fadel Hassan, told Reuters by telephone. He said dozens of Houthis were killed or captured during hours of clashes, while hundreds have fled. His forces were combing the base, which covers an area of 40 square km (15 square miles) for any Houthis who may have remained behind. He said his force would march on to complete the “liberation” of the provinces of Lahej and Abyan.

While the Saudi Coalition has been largely averse to utilizing ground troops, preferring to focus on training and equipping the local popular resistance forces, the decision to now place a substantial ground force may be reflective of the limitations faced by the anti-Houthi Yemeni forces, which are made up of a widely disparity group of local interests, from Pro-Hadi loyalists in the remains of the Yemeni military, to South Yemen secessionists, to tribal elements and even al Qaeda. Having Saudi and UAE forces on the ground may be intended to keep the coalition from fracturing as the unifying threat posed by the Iranian-backed Houthis is driven back. The Saudis largely favor a unified Yemen, and one would expect them to use their presence to oppose agitation for Southern secession.

The other prospect related to the direct entry of Saudi and UAE forces into the Yemen civil war is whether AQAP or Islamic State will resist the temptation to target them. The Saudis have largely ignored AQAP’s role in Yemen, including its seizure of the port of Mukalla and large sections of oil rich Hadramawt province. In fact the Saudis have held off bombardment against AQAP controlled towns, even while other Yemeni cities have faced a prolonged bombing campaign. Islamic State and AQAP have primarily targeted Shiites in Yemen, yet both are sworn enemies of the Saudi Kingdom. Yet the opportunity to harm KSA may be too good to be pass up, especially for Islamic State, which does not currently have territory that would be at risk of Saudi bombardment if it were to do so.

While the Saudi coalition has met success so far in Southern Yemen, We can expect things will become increasingly difficult as they progress northward towards areas closer to the Houthis’ northern base of operations and as the Houthis transition from a relatively conventional fight against other Yemeni militias to waging to an insurgency against a conventional force.

Kyle Shideler

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