Yemen's Civil War Drags on with Incremental Movements
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The Yemeni civil war seems as complex and as intractable as the conflict in Syria. Both conflicts have taken a devastating toll on civilians and an end to each conflict is still elusive after years of fighting.
For months, the battle lines between the belligerents have not changed. Forces loyal to the Yemeni government, led by President AbdRabboh Mansour Hadi with support from a Saudi-led coalition, are operating from Aden, not from the capital of Sana’a.
Government Forces Push Houthi Rebels into the Highlands
Two weeks ago, Yemeni government forces seized territory along Yemen’s Red Sea coast. Dubbed Operation Golden Arrow, the aim of the government forces was to push the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh back into the highlands and cut off Iranian assistance from the sea.
This military action provides greater security for ships in transit through the Red Sea. These ships have come under attack from land-based missiles operated by the Houthis.
Taiz province is situated between the Red Sea and the capital and province of Sana’a. Government forces must capture this territory that if they are to retake the capital and force the Houthi rebels back north. It is a significant undertaking by a military force that has struggled with multiple adversaries, all fighting for different goals.
Movement by Government Forces Comes at a Cost
Along with troops from the UAE, Yemeni government forces moved a large number of troops up the coastline, but that movement has come at a cost. Although exact casualty numbers are elusive, it appears the Houthis and Saleh loyalists managed to destroy several armored carriers.
Although the fighting did not appear to slow the government’s advance, it demonstrated that even a large force is still vulnerable and that the Houthis are still a capable adversary. Another problem resulting from this offensive is that government supply lines will be stretched, making them vulnerable to Houthi or Saleh loyalists.
Houthi forces haven’t yet shown signs of a counteroffensive, which could indicate some vulnerability. But it might also represent a feint aimed at drawing in government forces toward Houthi-held territory.
Sometimes, advancing forces can advance too far too quickly and allow their adversary to divide and conquer. Time will ultimately reveal Houthi plans in this region, but for now, the government has the initiative.
Time is also an adversary of the Houthi-Saleh alliance. These two parties are fighting jointly to defeat the government, yet their end goal differs significantly. Media reports suggest that the government offensive on the coast is placing added pressure on this alliance and further government advances could result is a permanent fracture.
Yemen is a poor and complex nation that was unified under a single banner less than 30 years ago. The 2011 political crisis that resulted in today’s armed conflict has exacerbated the poverty of this nation in unimaginable ways. The government’s move toward the coastal city of Al Hudaydah will bring a conclusion to this conflict within reach, although that is not guaranteed.
The coast around Taiz gives way to highlands historically inhabited by the Zaidi, a sect of Shia Islam, from which the Houthi rebels hail. Because of this geographic and sectarian distinction, defeating a rebel force on its own land is near impossible.
Former Yemeni president Saleh fought the Houthis for years before allying with them following his ouster. For current President Hadi, securing the coast and eventually returning to Sana’a might be possible, but building a lasting peace among Yemen’s people will be an enduring challenge.