Saudi-led coalition readies northern Yemen offensive against Houthis

Saudi-led coalition readies northern Yemen offensive against Houthis
The Saudi-led coalition and forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are preparing to reclaim a key Yemeni province from Houthi control, a high-place source said on Friday
4 min read
16 October, 2015
Pro-Hadi forces are preparing for an offensive in Yemen's northern Jawf Province [Getty]
The Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces are preparing an offensive against the Houthis in the northern Yemeni province of Jawf, sources revealed on Friday.

The Popular Resistance Committees have built military training camps to recruit and train tribesmen in preparation for the assault, sources in the committees told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic website.

Coalition forces and army units loyal to the government are deploying on the border of Jawf province in preparation for the battle to liberate it
- High-ranking source
Jawf, the largest province in north Yemen, borders both Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement’s stronghold in Saada province.

“Coalition forces and army units loyal to the government in Marib province are deploying on the border of Jawf province in preparation for the battle to liberate it, and the coalition has recently stepped up its airstrikes against Houthi positions and military bases,” high-ranking sources told al-Araby.

The Houthi movement, allied with forces loyal to deposed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over most of the country last year.

The Houthis are opposed by forces loyal to current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which include units of the Yemeni army, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the forces of the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition launched a campaign of airstrikes March this year to turn back the advance of Houthi fighters and forces loyal to the former president on the southern city of Aden, held by forces loyal to Hadi.

Some 4,500 civilians have been killed since the coalition launched its campaign of airstrikes.

The campaign in Jawf province is expected to be over quickly because of the province’s semi-desert geography and its relatively low population of only half a million. Elements of its population have historically been inclined toward the Houthi movement.

In 2011, hundreds of Houthi supporters were killed as they attempted to expand into Jawf, taking advantage of the growing chaos in Yemen during the Arab Spring. In 2014, the Houthis returned to Jawf, fighting a pitched battle with local tribal forces and the army garrison.

The ceasefire that ended the 2014 Houthi move into Jawf ended when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen.

The coalition’s efforts to open a front in Jawf ended in failure when the Houthis took control of the province’s capital, the city of Hazm, in June this year.

International pressure builds for a diplomatic solution

Yemeni sources in the Saudi capital told al-Araby that the international community was pressuring factions, and especially the government, to return to the negotiating table.

On Thursday the UN called for a return to negotiations, and expressed its hope a new round of peace talks could start before the end of October.

In a press conference in Geneva on Thursday, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said UN peace envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has proposed for a new round of talks to begin "within the next few weeks”, and called for participation in the peace talks without preconditions.

"We very much hope that these talks will take place, and that that will be combined with a reduction of violence and cessation of hostilities," he said.

He acknowledged though "the deep mistrust that exists between the key actors, not least between Saudi Arabia and UAE on one side and Iran on the other."

We hope that the Hadi government will also come to the talks now, and that both sides will come to the talks without preconditions
- Jan Eliasson
A first attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva in June between the pro-government forces and Houthi rebels collapsed without the warring parties even sitting down in the same room.

Last month, Hadi's government backed away from UN-sponsored talks that were to be held in Oman, insisting the rebels first agree to UN resolution 2216 passed in April demanding their withdrawal from territory they have seized since overrunning the capital in September 2014.

But Eliasson pointed out that the Houthis had sent a letter to the UN agreeing to abide by the resolution, which "was a positive move."

Al-Qaeda attack kills three soldiers

Meanwhile, suspected al-Qaeda gunmen killed three Yemeni soldiers on Friday in an ambush in the southeastern Hadramawt province, a military official said.

The troops were travelling in a military vehicle on a desert road linking Hadramawt to neighbouring Shabwa province when they were fired on, the official said.

"Three soldiers died on the spot and three others were wounded," the source said.

Meanwhile, in the western port city of Hodeida, Iran-backed rebels foiled an attempt by a group of al-Qaeda suspects to blow up intelligence headquarters, a local security official said.

Two vehicles approached the building and one of them fired rocket-propelled grenades at it, killing a Shia Houthi rebel and wounding five others, the source said.

The rebels stopped another bomb-laden vehicle driven by a suicide attacker before it entered the building, the official said, adding that the explosives were defused and the bomber arrested.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has exploited the unrest in Yemen, seizing large parts of Hadramawt, imposing a strict version of sharia (Islamic law), and have been in complete control of the province’s capital Mukalla since April.