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The momentum of the Saudi-led forces following the start of “Operation Golden Arrow,” appears to have decreased as the Al Houthis launch a counter-offensives in southern Yemen and prove they are ready and willing to escalate conflict directly at the border with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition forces will probably face an organized Al Houthi counter-offensive by next week. In turn, unconfirmed information about a planned ground offensive in al Hudaydah by the Saudi-led coalition. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) continue to benefit from the conflict. Terrorists forces will continue to expand as long as they have the informal support of Saudi-led forces.
The main battleground:
- August 15-20, Saudi-led coalition forces attempted to cut off the Al Houthis’ maritime supply route. Saudi warships bombed the al Hudaydah’s coastline on August 15, positions in al Hudaydah city on August 18, and Al Houthi military sites on August 20.
- August 17, In Ibb and Taiz, pro-Saudi militants cut off the Al Houthi supply line by seizing the southern city of al Sayani in Ibb.
- August 17, Al Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi declared a state of emergency in the northern governorate of Sa’ada and ordered an increase in Al Houthi military attacks along the Saudi-Yemeni border.
- August 18, Columns of armored vehicles and battle tanks of the Saudi-led forces moved from al Dhaleh and Lahij to reinforce positions in Mukayras. The Al Houthis responded to recent coalition gains in Lahij with counterattacks from the western Kirsh area on August 16 and August 18 and by shelling pro-Saudi forces. The Al Houthis continued to withdraw forces from Shabwah to consolidate military power in central Yemen.
- August 18-20, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes targeted Al Houthi positions in northern Taiz. Al Houthi forces countered the coalition-backed forces’ efforts to secure Ibb’s borders by retaking territory in western and eastern areas. Separately, pro-Saudi militant groups took control of the 35th Armored Brigade camp and the air base near Taiz, but the city is under the control of Al Houthi fighters.
- August 19-21, Anti-Al Houthi militants and Saudi-led forces consolidated their control of the al Bayda-Abyan border and attempted to weaken the remaining al Houthi forces in Mukayras with airstrikes in preparation for an advance.
- August 21-23, Al Houthi forces conducted a series of cross-border artillery strikes against Saudi military sites. Separately, a Saudi Apache helicopter was shot down in the Jawf region along the Saudi-Yemeni border on August 21.
The ISIS activity:
- August 15, ISIS reported that ISIS militants killed and captured several Al Houthi fighters during the raid against the al Houthi-controlled Jardan barracks in Ataq, Shabwah. The Al Houthi forces had withdrawn from many positions in Shabwah, including Ataq, by August 15.
- August 17, ISIS attacked Al Houthi forces in Sana’a, detonating an improvised explosive device near a checkpoint.
- August 19, ISIS Wilayat Hadramawt raided the Hazir barracks in Hadramawt’s northeastern Thamud district near the Yemeni-Saudi border.
The AQAP activity:
- August 18, AQAP militants conducted a series of attacks against Al Houthi positions, seizing parts of al Zahar district and al Sawma district. The northern area of Ja’ar in al Sawma is reportedly under the control of AQAP.
- August 16-20, Saudi-controlled Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government was negotiating with AQAP to regain control of the al Mukalla city. A source close to AQAP reported that the sides agreed to withdraw, but that it has not been done because AQAP has concerns that a withdrawal from the city will negatively impact the AQAP reputation in competition with ISIS. The Hadramawt region is currently under AQAP control.
Despite the reports of a continuation of the military escalation, a lot of experts argue that the active phase of the military conflict has almost ended. These forecasts aren’t related to ‘great successes’ of the Saudi-led ground forces: the most of Saudi militants’ gains admired by mainstream western media are a transfer of control under settlements from the Houthis’ government to local tribals. The real reason is a break in the Al Houthis’ camp: Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces have stopped particpating in the military developments on any side. In turn, the Al Houthis’ government fighters and pro-Saudi fighters don’t attack Saleh loyalists. The Saleh’s behavior is apparently connected with a fact that the former Yemeni president had got security guarantees. The guarantees could be given only by Riyadh with support of the USA seeking to hold and strengthen own influence in the Persian Gulf through Saudi Arabia.
Separately, the ulterior negotiations over the future of the country, zones of influence and a potential power balance have been going between the interest groups. The main public actors are: Saudi Arabia, Al l Houthis, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Southern Resistance and AQAP. The evident questions are:
- The US and Saudi Arabia aim to establish Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as a legal president of Yemen
- Possible Al Houthis’ zone of control with features of a quazi-state autonomy
- The Southern Resistance’s attempts to get an independence at controlled area
- The rise of AQAP’s influence and its competition with ISIS
- The game of the Saudi Arabia’s ‘partners’ in coalition seeking to gain own revenue from the situation (for instance UAE)
Nonetheless, no problems conducted the ongoing crisis are solved, many particulars of ongoing barging and political actors (for instance the Al-Islah party) aren’t revealed. Furthermore, there is no a consolidated armed forces in Yemen. So, it’s hard to talk about Hadi’s independent behavior after a future withdrawal of the Saudi-led coalition’s ground forces from the country.
The Al-Islah is a Yemeni Islamist party founded in 1990 by Abdullah ibn Husayn al-Ahmar, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Abdul Majeed al-Zindani and Mohammed al-Yadumi. However, Islah is more of a loose coalition of tribal and religious elements than a political party. Its origins are in the Islamic Front, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militia funded by Saudi Arabia to combat the Marxist National Democratic Front.
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