MS Risk Blog

Yemen Security Brief- 5 May

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On 3 May, at least 20 troops from the Saudi-led coalition came ashore in Aden on what military officials called a “reconnaissance” mission. Their nationalities are unknown. The troops landed in a central area between Aden’s neighbourhood of al-Mansoura and the airport. It is unclear whether they arrived by boat or helicopter. This marks the first ground landing of troops since the coalition began their air campaign against the Houthi rebels on 26 March. The troops carried assault rifles and topography equipment and had access to at least four vehicles.

The objective of the reconnaissance mission appears two-fold: first, Yemeni military officials say the coalition troops will train forces loyal to President Hadi, who has been in exile in Riyadh since March. Yemeni officials said that streamlining the militiamen fighting against the Houthis in Aden would be a critical step in developing a coherent force. This would aid coalition ground forces should they send troops into the region. Second, the troops will try to identify an area that could serve as a “green zone” — an area from which Hadi’s exiled government can operate upon their return to Yemen. Among the most likely locations is the the al-Bureqah area west of Aden.

Saudi officials denied that a major ground operation was under way, or that it had put non-Yemeni forces on the ground in Aden. However the kingdom has warned on more than one occasion that a ground operation could follow air campaign. Reports suggest that Egypt will be a likely participant should any ground offensive take place in Yemen.

The troops landed amid intense fighting in Aden. Days of heavy clashes have been reported in central districts of Mualla and Khor Maksar, near the main commercial port, as well as in the city’s north, around a military camp and the airport. Houthi reinforcements were reportedly sent in from al-Dhalea and Abyan to fight the southern militias.

On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition targeted several airports across Yemen. The coalition reportedly conducted 150 strikes on Aden’s airport. Airstrikes also targeted airports in Hodeida and Sana’a. In downtown Sana’a, fighter jets struck al-Sabeen Square. The square was once where Yemen held military parades. The area was targeted to prevent the Houthi militants from using it as an airport for Iranian planes. Further strikes were aimed at the Houthi stronghold of Saada, and in Marib, where the coalition airdropped weapons to tribes allied to Hadi’s government.

Meanwhile, Senegal announced it would contribute troops to back the Saudi-led coalition. Senegalese Foreign Affairs Minister Mankeur Ndiaye said his country is sending 2,100 soldiers to help back the Saudi-led intervention. Senegal becomes the first sub-Saharan African country to contribute soldiers to the effort. The nation has received significant financial investments from Saudi Arabia in recent years. Senegalese President Macky Sall met last month with the Saudi king, who sought troop contributions at that time.

The international monitoring group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that credible evidence show that the Saudi-led coalition “used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen.” They add, “Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.” HRW evidence since mid-April shows that these munitions were used in coalition airstrikes in the Saada governorate, the Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. The bombs appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village. Saudi Arabia’s coalition spokesman was not immediately available to comment on the report, but had previously stated that the kingdom was not using cluster bombs.

The fighting in Yemen has left more than 1,200 people dead, mostly civilians, and at least 300,000 residents have been displaced. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis, the UN has warned that key infrastructure, including water supplies, food, health services and telecommunications, are on the verge of breaking down due to a major fuel shortage. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement of extreme concern about the severe damage caused by recent coalition attacks on airports. The attacks have obstructed the delivery of humanitarian assistance and movement of humanitarian personnel. The joint statement says:

“The disruption of the key logistic infrastructure, including airports, sea ports, bridges and roads are having alarming consequences on the civilian population, and the humanitarian situation has now become catastrophic. Checkpoints by the different armed factions have obstructed the delivery of urgent medical supplies to hospitals and have prevented patients and wounded to access essential healthcare.”

Johannes van der Klaauw of the UN warned that the absence of fuel imports could further worsen the situation:

“Without fuel hospitals can’t work, ambulances can’t go out. You can’t have the water system working because water has to be pumped. The telecommunication network risks shutting down […] if something is not done in the next few days in terms of bringing fuel and food into the country, Yemen is going to come to a complete stand-still.”

On Monday, newly appointed Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said coalition countries were considering a cease-fire to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. He said the coalition is seeking specific places to deliver humanitarian assistance, during which there will be a halt of all air operations. Al-Jubeir also warned the Houthis against exploiting any possible halt in airstrikes, saying the kingdom will resume airstrikes over any “violations” impeding the humanitarian efforts.

Today, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states will meet in Riyadh to discuss the ongoing regional crises, including Yemen. French President Francois Hollande will also attend, the first foreign leader to attend a GCC Summit since its inception in 1981.

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