Yemen war: Arab countries mass ground troops

Yemen war: Arab countries mass ground troops
Arab nations are massing ground forces as they escalate their battle against Houthis in Yemen's north, and in rebel-held Sanaa.
4 min read
10 September, 2015
Anonymous sources are promising that more foreign soldiers are on their way to Yemen [Getty]

Marib is considered by many Yemenis to be the unruly badlands of the country, where powerful tribes operate in the desert, disregarding the central government.

Yet it is now ironically serving as the staging post for Yemen's government-in-exile, and their Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia, in the quest to retake the country's capital Sanaa from the Houthis.

It is those foreign troops that the spotlight is now on, with arge deployments into an active warzone unprecedented for most of the Gulf countries involved, and Yemen, especially its north, notorious for being inhospitable to foreign soldiers.

     The Gulf armies are putting their soldiers into real danger, and the losses last week emphasise that

Marib gave the Gulf troops their first real taste of the horror that has accompanied the war in Yemen, after a Houthi missile attack on their encampment on Friday left 60 Gulf soldiers dead, including 45 from the United Arab Emirates, a figure that far outstrips any previous losses on the part of the country's military in its history.

The days that have followed the attack have been filled with a ramping up of the bombardment of Sanaa, as well as more arrivals of foreign soldiers to Yemen, and specifically Marib, and anonymous sources promising that more are on their way.

READ ALSO: Arab coalition readies for battle in Yemen's north

There are already at the very least 1,000 soldiers from each of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar – the latter of which arrived in a contingent following Friday's attack, and represent a huge number for a country with an army estimated at around 8,000 men.

In addition Bahrain are set to send more soldiers, including, as King Hamad al-Khalifa has promised, two of his sons, as well as Kuwait.

Outside the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt has sent 800 soldiers, accompanied by tanks and military transport vehicles, despite Egypt's disastrous experience in the north of Yemen in the 1960's – a war described as the country's Vietnam, and one that weakened the Egyptian army and made it further vulnerable to Israel, as the 1967 war showed.

However, aside from proclamations of "Arab brotherly solidarity", Egypt's present excursion to Yemen shows that the country is a shadow of its 1960's self, when it actively clashed with Saudi Arabia; today it seeks the Kingdom's largesse.

In that it is not alone. Jordan, Sudan and Morocco are all expected to either have ground troops in Yemen or are set to.

While Arab armies, and specifically the Gulf, have participated in such coalitions before – and the First Gulf War springs to mind – the war in Yemen represents the a real change, a conflict that they are leading the line in, and not just providing extra decoration.

The Gulf armies are putting their soldiers into real danger, and the losses last week emphasise that.

At Marib, they are accompanied by a Yemeni forced trained by the Gulf and loyal to the exiled government, said to be 10,000 strong.

Many of the soldiers fighting in the Gulf armies are also Yemeni.

Does this show of strength mean that success is on its way?

The modern tanks and armoury that smashed the Houthis and allied forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the south of the country cannot operate in the same way in the landscape of the north, all mountain passes and peaks.

The Apache helicopters currently waiting in Marib will take their role, but a certain advantage has certainly been lost.

The Saudi-led coalition also has to contend with a population in the north that is more naturally sympathetic to the Houthis and Saleh, unlike the south, where the Arab forces were seen as liberators from northern invaders.

Indeed, many southern fighters have vowed not to join in the war in the north, telling the Gulf that that is not their fight.

The coalition has been working hard to convince the tribes in the regions surrounding Sanaa, groupings that have so far largely thrown in their lot with the Houthis and Saleh, that this is not their fight.

They want them to either join their side, or at least stand aside.

Much rests on the decisions made by those tribes. They are pragmatic and avoid losing causes.

Yet, even with them on side, the coalition faces a group in the Houthis who will not give up easily, especially in light of their ideological beliefs and their battle-hardened experience.

War is coming to Sanaa, and, however many troops the coalition manages to mass, outright victory will be difficult to achieve.   ​