Is Tareq Saleh making a comeback to battle Yemen's Houthis with UAE-funded militias?

Is Tareq Saleh making a comeback to battle Yemen's Houthis with UAE-funded militias?
In-depth: The nephew of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is appearing to make a comeback to cast his revenge against the Houthi rebels with UAE-funded militias.
5 min read
19 April, 2018
Tareq Saleh has vowed vengeance against the Houthis [Twitter]
In December last year, the Houthi group routed the forces of their ally, late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, ending up their shaky alliance in a bloody battle.

On December 2, Saleh declared his preparedness to "open a new page" with the Saudi Arabia led Arab coalition. Two days later, the Houthis killed him, some of his aides as well as soldiers and army leaders.

But one cunning military Brigadier-General Tareq Mohammed Saleh miraculously survived.

The nephew of the slain president Saleh, Tareq was the one who spearhead the armed clashes with the Houthi rebels in December last year in Sanaa.

Though he lost the battle and fled from Sanaa after being overpowered by the well-armed group, it seems his spirit was not defeated. 

Backed by the late former president, tribes and army generals – including Tareq – the Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014. The Houthi-Saleh alliance of convenience began to collapse in 2017. Now, Saleh's loyal remaining men have a quenching thirst for retaliation against the rebel group.

Presently, Tareq is in Yemen's city of Mocha, to the south of the country. He is preparing and building an army to lead a war against the Houthis. Until December of last year, he was a military foe for the Saudi-led coalition, but when he turned on the Houthis, the coalition, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, received him with open arms.

The Saudi-led coalition has forged a fresh alliance with Ali Abdullah Saleh's nephew

The Arab coalition has forged this fresh alliance with Tareq, a move aimed at uniting against the Iran-allied Houthis who still firmly control Yemen's capital and many provinces in the north. This new alliance will lead to a substantial change to the dynamics of war in Yemen.

This week, Yemen-based Khabr News Agency quoted a source as saying: "Tareq is leading a military force whose members belong to different security and military units and from various provinces of Yemen."

According to the agency, the mission of these forces is "liberating" Yemen from the Houthis.

Sparking hope

Many Yemenis expressed hope in the recent emergence of Tareq in Yemen's Mocha. They believe in him as a courageous and seasoned commander who will fight the Houthis to the finish.

Ali Al-Bukhaiti, a Yemeni politician and former Houthi member, said collective efforts of all anti-Houthi factions are indispensable now. Displaying support for the Arab coalition-Tareq alliance, Bukhaiti said: "We are at a critical juncture. We either regain the republic or the [Houthi] ideology will be embedded for centuries to come."

This new alliance has raised the hopes of multitudes of Yemenis who say they aspire for an end to the Houthi dominance and violence.

Khalil Alomari, a Yemeni journalist, said he has confidence in Tareq and his forces.

"We believe in commander Tareq and his combat experience. He will open the road to Sanaa by force. He is a great national leader with tremendous popularity," Alomari said.

Hitherto, the Tareq-led military forces remain stationed in Mocha, an area between Hodeidah and Taiz, two governorates where Houthis have a strong presence. It is unclear when these forces will move from their current camp.

While some Yemenis see hope in the rise of Tareq forces, UN officials fear that any further military escalation will shatter the peace prospects. 

On Tuesday, UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, expressed concern in his first briefing over potential movement of forces towards Hodeidah, the coastal city located to the west of Yemen.

"We also hear, and this issue is of great importance to us, unconfirmed reports that movements of forces in Yemen are on the increase and that the prospect of intensive military operations in Hodeidah, long heralded, may soon be forthcoming," Griffiths said. 

Accordingly, if any military forces will be advancing towards Hodeidah, the Tareq-led forces will most likely be in the front.

Restoring the former regime?

Not all anti-Houthi factions in Yemen have welcomed the rise of Tareq, the nephew of a president who ruled Yemen over three decades.

Tareq-led militias are funded by UAE, and Iran is funding the Houthis. President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the legitimate authority in Yemen. Thus, any military force outside the control of state legitimacy will be deemed a militia

On Sunday, mass protests took to the streets in Taiz, airing their rejection of the new alliance between the Saudi-led Arab coalition and commander Tareq.

The protesters said they would not allow the rebirth of the regime whose men belong to the reign of late president Saleh.

Some political observers pointed out that the rising power of Tareq will not be of service to the legitimate government of Yemen. 

Adel Doshela, a Yemen researcher and writer, said this military commander is leading militias, and he is not different from the Houthi group.

"Tareq-led militias are funded by UAE, and Iran is funding the Houthis. President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the legitimate authority in Yemen. Thus, any military force outside the control of state legitimacy will be deemed a militia," said Doshela.

Yemen has been plagued by shifting alliances. Allies turn into adversaries and enemies become friends constantly. In 2011, the Houthis and Islah Party joined hands to topple former president Saleh, and they did. In 2014, Saleh partnered with the Houthis to oust the Saudi-backed Yemen government in addition to purging the Islah Party's leading members.

Today, the loyalists of departed president Saleh, including commander Tareq, are willing to ally with the Saudi-backed Yemen government and the Islah Party to defeat the Houthis. This circle of shifting alliances appears to be an endless cycle in Yemen, and such a reality acts as a catalyst for unending strife.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.