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Ground forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen have faced a major internal crisis over the control for the strategic coastal city of Aden. In January, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Shabwan Elite Forces (SEF) launched a series of operations against forces loyal to Saudi-backed President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Since then, the SEF and the STC have captured a major part of Aden, including the nearby military facilities, as well as the city of Ataq, the capital of the province of Shabwah. Pro-Hadi forces were not able to put up a significant resistance to their opponents even with air support from the Saudi Arabia’s air force.
Thus, the UAE and its allies on the ground further expanded its influence in southern Yemen while the Saudi-backed Yemen government was put on the verge of the collapse. The Yemeni capital, Sanaa, is controlled by the Houthis. So, President Hadi and the Saudi-backed government used Aden as own capital.
In early February, the sides formally reached the ceasefire in Aden. Nonetheless, sporadic clashes continued in the city and across the southern part of the country.
Some source say that the main reason of tensions is an ill-advised policy of Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr and his cabinet. However, it is clear that the real reason behind the tensions is ongoing competition for the spheres of the influence between various factions of the so-called Saudi-led coalition.
Furthermore, Aden lies at the cross-section of multiple trade routes and has a high economic importance serving as a key logistical hub in the area.
The STC was formed by the Southern Movement, a political movement and paramilitary organization active in the former territory of the state known as South Yemen. The political goal of the movement is to secede from the Republic of Yemen and to establish an independent state.
On February 5, the London-based newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that STC Head, Aidarus al-Zubaidi, departed Aden to visit the UAE capital Abu Dhabi and the Saudi capital Riyadh. The visits show the growing influence of the STC amid the developing conflict in Yemen.
On the same day, the Saudi military claimed that it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis from the Yemen province of Sa’adah at the Saudi city of Khamis Mushait. The Houthis continue using ballistic missiles to pound facilities of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen as well as targets inside Saudi Arabia. This shows that efforts of the Saudi-led coalition to destroy stockpiles and arms depots of the Houthis across the country resulted in little effect, most likely because of a lack of the reconnaissance on the ground.
Another important threat is cross-borders attacks by the Houthis. For example, on February 3, seven Saudi military service members were killed in cross-border attacks in the Saudi province of Jizan and Najran. On February 2, the Houthis attacks Saudi-led forces in the village of al-Khadra in the province of Jizan and destroyed at least three vehicles. Such attacks reveal a poor security situation at the Saudi-Yemeni border.
On the other hand, the Saudi-led coalition and its local allies were able to develop momentum against the Houthis in the area of Taiz and south of the port city of Hudaydah. Right now, the most intense fighting is ongoing west of Taiz.