The Saudi-led coalition expects the war in Yemen to last for at least a few more months. Coalition ground forces are making some progress on the key fronts in Marib, Ta’izz, and the Tihama. But the Huthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh remain defiant, and feel that they may have the advantage as the war spreads into the more mountainous terrain of the north. They may attempt to step up the so far limited cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, but they lack the capacity to sustain these over the long term.
The Saudis are active among the Yemeni tribes, in a bid to win them over. But they are seen to favour old friends as well as Islah, a Yemeni political grouping with Sunni Islamist leanings. There are tensions between the UAE, which has provided a significant number of ground troops, and the Saudis over the conduct of the war, and over the role of Islah in particular. The Emiratis are sceptical about the group, whereas the Saudis seem to have becoming more comfortable with backing it as a partner. Most of the fighting is still being done by Yemenis trained by the coalition, or by Yemeni army groups often associated with Islah. There appear to be relatively few Saudi troops on the front line.
The Huthis have signalled that they are ready for negotiations but the Saudis see this as a tactic to undermine the coalition’s current offensive. The reality is that both sides think they have more to gain by fighting than talking.
Bomb attacks by the Islamic State group (IS) against Yemeni ministers and a building housing UAE soldiers underline the security problems in Aden, forcing Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his ministers to move to Riyadh until the coalition, working with a new Yemeni organisation, can guarantee their security. Although the Huthis have been cleared from the south, what government there is in that region is now in the hands of a variety of local groups.
Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS are exploiting the situation, and it will be difficult to push AQAP out of Mukalla and other parts of coastal Hadhramaut.
The Huthi government based in Sana’a remains dysfunctional and may soon run out of money. It appears to have no strategy to cope.
Coalition bombing in Sana’a has increased in intensity and some well-publicised accidents have highlighted the growing number of civilian casualties – dismissed by the coalition as the reality of war. Huthi/Saleh tactics in Ta’izz have also led to high numbers of civilian deaths.
Western governments supporting the coalition are increasingly concerned about the impact on public opinions of civilian deaths, and the threat of famine in some areas. This has not, however, yet had any impact on their support. The humanitarian crisis is already severe, and it is worsening.
This piece was taken from Yemen Focus. Individual editions of the publication are now available at our online shop.