Preparing to invade Sana’a, Hadi’s forces amass hundreds of armored vehicles
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
Dozens of families are fleeing Sana’a in response to a military buildup in preparation for the expected invasion of Yemen’s capital, a battle which could prove pivotal in the country’s ongoing civil war. Forces loyal to exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi have amassed hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of fighters in an effort to recapture the Yemeni capital, seized by the Houthi twelve months ago, according to fighters who support Hadi.
Civilians began to evacuate the city in early August with most seeking refuge in neighboring governorates or in rural areas. At present it is unclear whether the battle will go ahead or if Hadi will push for a political settlement, which would likely see the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthi withdrawing from Sana’a.
“My home is in… the middle of Sana’a, an area that has a mostly Houthi population. If battles are to start it will last in (my) neighborhood for a while, the Houthis are already barricading themselves in,” Ali Muhammed Al-Mulaiki, 55, a local man who fled the city and was travelling westwards, told The Media Line. “I have a family of five, I sent them to my parents in Mahweet. As for me, I will go back to protect my home from looters and from any fighters who might decide to barricade themselves inside it,” Al-Mulaiki explained.
“I have lived in my house for 25 years, I never thought that a day would come in which I would have to leave it – it took me 10 years to build,” Al-Mulaiki said, adding that he took no side in the conflict and merely hopes that his family’s property will survive the fighting unscathed.
The Houthi captured Sana’a a year ago following limited fighting which lasted for three days and left dozens dead. This time, if the Houthi choose to try to hold the city against Hadi’s forces, it is likely the battle for the city will last far longer with pitched street by street fighting. This would lead to greater levels of destruction to the city of two million people than had been seen previously.
The loss of the city would be a crucial blow to the Houthi and could mark a turning point in the war.
A conglomeration of tribal militias, fighters from the south and military personnel loyal to Hadi have begun training in preparation for the attack, fighters say. The Saudi-led coalition has supplied the troops with hundreds of armored personnel carriers and tanks, along with trainers, advisors and other non-combat troops.
Leaders from within the alliance confirmed to The Media Line that Hadi’s forces are preparing first for a political solution and that only if this fails will the invasion of Sanaa’ go ahead.
The military option is ready, Abdul Majid Al-Ghawi, a leading figure in Marib province’s anti-Houthi fighters, and the head of Yemen’s largest tribe, the Hashed, told The Media Line. He said an entire brigade is being trained in Hadramout, a unit which will be tasked with liberating the provinces of Sana’a, Dhamar, Amran, Sa’da and Mahweet.
“The coalition with their vehicles and planes, the Hadi-loyal Yemeni army and the tribal fighters … will participate in the battle to free Azal Region,” the tribal leader said. The amount of hardware amassed would make victory likely, Al-Ghawi said.
“We have received 400 tanks, armored vehicles, personnel carriers, minesweepers, rocket launching vehicles, in addition to dozens of Apache (helicopters).”
In addition a military airfield is being constructed to allow warplanes to participate in the operation. These reinforcements will be used to capture Sana’a but will subsequently go on to move into adjacent provinces, Al-Ghawi said.
“There is a plan to enter Sana’a but I cannot fully disclose it (for operational security reasons), but the key component is that the attack will begin from three different directions,” a second leader from the anti-Houthi fighters, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Media Line. The invasion will be staged from the north, west and south, with troops attacking from the west supported by naval vessels, the source said.
“We are ready to break into Sana’a and liberate it anytime… we are over 15,000 fighters including the army and the popular resistance forces,” Abdulrahman Al-Haisi, a soldier from a brigade loyal to President Hadi, told The Media Line.
The Houthi, along with their ally former President Ali Saleh and elements of the national army loyal to him, are preparing for a long-term battle in Sana’a. Thousands of fighters have been spread throughout the mountains surrounding Sana’a and tunnels and trenches have been dug near the entrances to the city, according to information received by The Media Line. Defenses have also been constructed within the perimeter of the city’s international airport.
A number of Houthi fighters removed their families from the city, seen as further indication of preparation for the upcoming battle.
“If the coalition tries to enter Sana’a there will be thousands of deaths, they want a sea of blood if they are coming into Sana’a,” Safwan Al-Marwani, a leading figure within the Houthi, told The Media Line. Al-Marwani refused to comment further.
There are indications that negotiations have taken place in Oman between representatives of President Hadi and the Houthi, with the aim of avoiding further fighting. The talks, which commenced in June, are aimed at persuading the Houthi to surrender and withdraw from the capital.
“It appears that we will avoid war in Sana’a because the tribes surrounding the city decided to join Hadi’s side – therefore there is more hope that Sana’a will be regained peacefully,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf, the Minister of Information in Hadi’s cabinet, told The Media Line.
The tribes who live in the areas around Sana’a are seen as a key broker in any future battle for the city as they control the roads in an out of the city.
Brigadier Ahmed Asiri, spokesperson for the Saudi led coalition refused to comment on the issues discussed in this story, expressing the need to maintain operational security.