Around 100,000 have fled their homes in Aden after two weeks of airstrikes

April 11, 2015 6:21 pm
Two weeks into a Saudi-led military campaign in , the airstrikes
appear to have accelerated the country’s fragmentation into warring
tribes and militias and done little to accomplish the goal of returning
the ousted Yemeni President to power, analysts and residents say.
The
Yemeni insurgents, known as Houthis, have pushed ahead with their
offensive and seem to have protected many of their weapons stockpiles
from the coalition’s bombardments, analysts say. The fighting has killed
hundreds of people, forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes
and laid waste to the strategic city of Aden.Campaign aimed at restoring President has fragmented country into warring tribes, writes Hugh Naylor,

The battles are
increasingly creating problems that go beyond the rebels opposing
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the forces supporting him. The
conflict has reduced available water and food supplies in a country
already suffering from dangerous levels of malnutrition, and created a
security vacuum that has permitted territorial advances by a group known
as al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP).

For the Saudi Government and its allies, the military operation in Yemen may be turning into a quagmire, analysts say.
“What’s
a potential game-changer in all of this is not just the displacement of
millions of people, but it’s this huge spread of disease, starvation
and inaccessibility to water, combined with an environment where radical
groups are increasingly operating in the open and recruiting,” said Jon
Alterman, director of the Programme at the Centre for
Strategic and International Studies.
The Yemen conflict, he
added, could become a situation where “nobody can figure out either who
started this fight or how to end it”.
, a Sunni
powerhouse, views Yemen’s Houthi rebels as proxies of Shia Iran. The air
campaign that began on March 25 is widely seen in the region as an
attempt by the Saudis to counter the expanding influence of Iran, which
has gained sway in Arab countries like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Hadi,
the internationally recognised Yemeni President, was pushed out of the
capital, Sanaa, in February. He then attempted to establish an authority
in Aden before being forced to flee to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, last
month.
In a media briefing in Riyadh this week, a Saudi military
spokesman painted a positive picture of the offensive in neighbouring
Yemen, saying that Houthi militias had been isolated in Aden and groups
of rebels were abandoning the fight. Saudi officials have argued that a
two-week time frame is too short to judge the operation’s outcome and
have emphasised that they are moving carefully to avoid civilian
casualties.
The Saudi-led coalition, which the United States
Government supports with intelligence and weapons, consists of mostly
Arab and Sunni Muslim countries, and the level of quiet coordination
among their armed forces has impressed analysts. The United Arab
Emirates and Jordan are believed to have joined Saudi Arabia in
conducting air raids that have destroyed scores of military bases and
arms depots, said Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based analyst on Middle
Eastern military issues. The Saudis also have received support from
Egypt’s navy in patrolling the coast of Yemen, he said.
Still,
Karasik said, Houthi rebels appear to have successfully hidden from
bombardment significant stores of weapons, possibly by moving them to
the insurgents’ mountainous northern stronghold of Saada. To destroy
those arms and persuade the Houthis to halt their offensive and agree to
peace talks, a ground attack would be required, he said.
“This
illustrates that air power alone cannot rid enemy ground forces of their
weapons and capability,” Karasik said. “It makes them scatter, and it
makes them hide their weapons for a later day.”
Ground troops
would certainly face stiff resistance from the Houthi militiamen.
Seasoned guerrilla fighters, they seized southern parts of Saudi Arabia
during a brief war in 2009, killing over 100 Saudi troops.
Saudi
Arabia has not ruled out a ground attack, but its allies appear wary of
such a move. The kingdom has asked Pakistan to commit troops to the
campaign, but that country is deeply divided over participating in an
operation that could anger its own Shia minority.
Though fraught
with risk, continued airstrikes and a possible ground incursion may be
the only choices that Saudi Arabia sees itself as having, said Imad
Salamey, a Middle East expert at the Lebanese American University. He
said that officials in Riyadh probably are concerned that relenting
could be perceived as weakness, especially in Iran.
Saudi Arabia
also considers Yemen to be its backyard, he noted. “As far as the Saudis
are concerned, this is a fight for their homeland, the existence of
their regime.”
On Thursday, Iranian leaders issued strong
condemnations of the Saudi-directed assaults. Iran’s supreme leader,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called them a “crime and a genocide” in a
televised speech.
The Yemen campaign is part of an increasingly
assertive Saudi policy in the region that is driven in part by what
analysts say is concern over a possible agreement on Iran’s nuclear
programme.
The Saudis fear such a deal could amount to US recognition of Iran’s growing influence in the region.
The
Saudis have said that they want to restore Hadi’s government. But the
president’s support base – both in the splintered military and among the
public – appears to be crumbling.
Many residents say they resent
how Hadi and fellow exiled leaders cheer on coalition assaults from
abroad as Aden residents confront heavily armed Houthi militiamen and
their allies.
“He’s only ever let us down,” said Ali Mohammed, 28, an unemployed resident of Aden.
In
other areas where anti-Houthi sentiment runs high, Hadi’s stock also
appears to be falling. Ahmed Othman, a politician in the southern city
of Taiz, blamed Hadi for not organising military resistance against the
rebels. He also expressed worry about unidentified fighters who are
increasingly staging attacks on Houthi positions in the city. “The
biggest concern we have now in Taiz is the absence of security,” he
said.
In provinces where opposition to the Houthis runs high,
especially in the south, tribal forces have played an increasingly
prominent role in opposing the rebels.
Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni
analyst and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, said
that mounting civilian casualties from the coalition air raids have
fanned public anger. So, too, have worsening shortages of food and
water, he added.
He said the chaos was creating fertile ground
for extremist groups like AQAP. The al-Qaeda group, which uses Yemen as a
base to stage attacks in the West, has seized significant territory
during the fighting, including Yemen’s fifth-largest city as well as a
military installation on the border with Saudi Arabia.
It may be impossible to put Yemen back together, Muslimi said.
“The
days of a Yemen that could be run by one person who could be dealt with
and who could take care of things are gone,” he said.
That leaves the Saudis with no obvious military or diplomatic exit, he added. “This is becoming their Vietnam.”

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