Who enters Aden first: The Houthis or the coalition?

Who enters Aden first: The Houthis or the coalition?
4 min read
30 March, 2015
Analysis: The race between the Houthis and the Arab coalition to secure control of Aden is on. The winner will secure a valuable card in the game to control Yemen.
The battle for control of Aden has begun [Wael Shaif Thabet/Anadolu/Getty]

Aden and other cities in southern Yemen are entering a new stage of potential scenarios between the forces of the Houthi movement, the forces of Ali Abdullah Saleh and anyone behind them on the one hand, and President Abd-Rabbo Mansur Hadi and his allies, including the southerners themselves and the pro-legitimacy coalition through Operation Decisive Storm, on the other.

On land, the battle has come very close to the city of Aden. Coalition forces are very close to the city, while the Houthis and Saleh are getting closer. Over the past two days, Oman was accused of opening its territory to allow Iranian experts to enter Yemen from the west. This, till now, remains a rumour, perhaps psychological warfare.

Scenarios for an expanded conflict

All these facts open the door to all possible scenarios for an expanded conflict in Aden - between an all-out civil war and a potentially unequal war on the ground in case the coalition forces mount a ground offensive. Political sources close to Hadi told al-Araby al-Jadeed that they expected forces belonging to the 10-state coalition to arrive in Aden within the next days to confront the Houthis and Saleh's forces.

The departure of diplomatic missions from the city were all part of preparations. One source added that "the warships of the coalition will dock off the Aden coast to stop the expansion toward Aden and protect it from Houthi control by securing the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the international maritime corridor, in addition to fortifying the seaport of Aden."

A source in the Yemeni Navy told al-Araby that, "Egyptian gunboats and warships got close to Aden after arriving at the outskirts of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which Aden overlooks".

Some believe it likely the coalition might seek to secure the 'wealthy governorates', such as Hadramawt and Shabwah, which overlook the Arabian Sea. Meanwhile, a French warship is present in the area to secure the Balhaf liquefied gas terminal in Shabwah, which is run by the French company Total.

Aden, however, remains the rivals' focus, and all are in a race to control the city. The coalition is seeking to secure the city so Hadi can run the country from there. Hadi is expected to return to Aden after participating in the Arab summit. Some believe that the coalition will seek to control the city so it can perform its political mission, especially as it is an urgent situation now that all diplomatic missions, including the UN mission, have been evacuated.

Aden remains the rivals' centre of attention, and all are in a race to control the city.

On 27 March, the coalition command threatened to prevent the Houthis and Saleh's forces from entering Aden to control it. But this so far seems to be mere talk, for the Houthis and Saleh's forces are already in Aden, taking control of areas and engaging in guerilla warfare there. The latter use snipers and tanks, blow up houses, displace families, and barricade themselves in the houses they storm. They are also in control of a large part of Aden Airport, where they have arrested dozens of people, including southern political and religious leaders and figures and citizens.

Guerilla warfare tactics are being used on the streets of Aden and its outskirts and in the city of Sabir, the largest city of Lahij Governorate near Aden. They also seized control over areas in Abyan Governorate, through which they are about to enter Aden.

Since the launch of Operation Decisive Storm, the Houthis and former President Saleh have used all their capacities in the south and sent massive military reinforcements and thousands of gunmen there. This is their largest operation, in which they used all roads leading to Aden from the land, sea, and air. They opened six fronts in their war to invade the south, and are close to controlling Aden.

In a surprise move on Friday evening, they carried out large-scale infiltration operations via the southern and western coasts of Aden, sending hundreds of gunmen by sea. In the meantime, thousands of them are seeking to infiltrate Aden from three directions: Abyan in the east, Lahij in the north, and Hodeida and Taiz in the west. On the evening of Friday, they entered Aden by sea from the south.

According to observers, whoever controls Aden will control the Bab al-Mandab Strait and win a strategic political card in the war. The Houthis and Saleh are, therefore, seeking to control Aden before the arrival of coalition forces, whose intervention has so far been limited to air raids despite the fact that the military forces of the Houthis and Saleh are heading south.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.