The war in Yemen has been grinding on for more than half a year, largely forgotten by the world’s media. This being said, another bloody incident in this increasingly deadly war has thrust the country back into the spotlight. This morning Houthi-aligned forces fired a barrage of OTR-21 Tochka ballistic missiles at Arab Coalition forces in the Yemeni town of Ma’rib. These heavy ballistic missiles caused catastrophic damage to those targeted, with at least 22 UAE soldiers confirmed dead, and another 25 allied local fighters killed. This combined with the deaths of 5 Bahraini soldiers in separate incident of cross border fighting on the Yemen/Saudi Arabian border, makes today the deadliest yet for the Arab Coalition.
But what has changed that has enabled the Houthis and elements of the Yemeni Army to strike back so hard? Conflict News spoke to Sanaa resident and security analyst Hisham Al-Omeisy to find out more about these developments.
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Regarding the Houthis losses of territory in the south of Yemen, especially around Aden, following the arrival of Emirati ground troops, he explains that the Houthis have effectively made a tactical retreat.
“They lost areas to the Popular Resistance that are exactly along the lines separating North and South Yemen,” Al-Omeisy said, explaining that the Houthis have retreated to areas where they enjoy greater support.
“[The Houthis] were hemorrhaging a lot of soldiers, a lot of money and munitions, so to a lot of people they were cutting their losses.”
Regarding today’s deadly missile attack he believes it came as a preemptive strike against the Coalition forces. After a number of failed offensives into areas of strong Houthi support, the UAE, KSA and their Yemeni allies had gathered a large force of tanks, AFVs and soldiers in Ma’rib as a staging point to attack Sanaa. This force was reportedly being touted as sufficient to take Sanaa “in only a few days”.
“Marib has been reinforced heavily by the Coalition. They were basically building a huge force to in Ma’rib, so that from Ma’rib, they could come and invade the capital.” Al-Omeisy explains.
“So today, when the Houthis attacked Ma’rib, it came as a surprise to a lot of people, because people expected […] this force to move into Sanaa, not the other way around[…] It was basically a huge slap to the coalition forces.”
While the long-term outcomes of this attack still remain to be seen, it is important to note that the Houthis have continued to be able to conduct large-scale attacks without outside resupply. Rather, through their alliance with large elements of the Yemeni Army, they have access to a large amount of stockpiled weapons, such as the Tochka missiles used with devastating effect today. Despite widespread allegations of Iranian supplied weapons being used in the conflict, this is not confirmed by sources on the ground.
“It’s mostly stock they had previously, especially now they are working with the Yemeni Army which basically had access to warehouses – that is why they had those advanced weapons, in addition to those they confiscated from their opposition – weapons dropped to the Resistance,” Hisham says.
“But there is no evidence that they have been resupplied, or been given weapons by outside forces, like Iran for instance.”
Critical to the outcome of this war will be the way in which the Gulf States that form the Coalition intervening in Yemen deal with their rising military death tolls. If this causes domestic political problems for them the war could soon see a negotiated political settlement, however should it enrage these countries into a yet greater level of involvement, the war will drag on, and may yet worsen.