Editor's Note: Though Yemen has always suffered from instability, its recent history has been especially violent. With the Arab Spring came protests in Sanaa that escalated the feud between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. The fighting in Sanaa eventually devolved to open warfare, and Saleh was severely wounded in an assassination attempt in June 2011. To ease tensions within the country, in 2012 the Gulf Cooperation Council mediated an agreement under which Saleh was replaced by current embattled President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi. However, after launching a campaign to push back against rebels and secessionist forces throughout the country, it became clear that the military was not a unified organization capable of maintaining order within the country.
In 2014, Hadi began pursuing a federal system to better distribute power among Yemen's different political groups, but obstacles to the plan emerged. The country's Houthi rebel group wanted more power within the new system and stepped up its campaign against the government in Sanaa, advancing all the way to the capital and eventually forcing it into U.N.-brokered peace talks in August. Per the agreement, Yemen formed a new government to appease the Houthis. However, the group was unhappy with the terms of the new proposition for the country's constitution. Despite agreeing to a cease-fire Jan. 19, Houthi rebels stormed the presidential palace in Sanaa and surrounded Prime Minister Khaled Bahah's residence Jan. 20. Although on the surface the Houthis' actions resemble a coup, the militants are actually pursuing a different strategy. Their recent moves are aimed at demonstrating their strength — they are not interested in directly ruling Yemen. Instead, they seek to increase their influence within Yemen's federal system. Stratfor has been tracking the conflict in Yemen closely, and below is a routinely updated chronicle of the most recent developments.
Sept. 8: The Battle for Sanaa Draws Closer
In preparation for a military offensive on Sanaa, more countries from the Saudi-led coalition are deploying personnel and equipment in Yemen. The main body of forces is being assembled in the Marib region, from where a drive east toward the capital city would be executed. Aside from the Saudi and UAE elements already on the ground, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait and Qatar will reportedly be committing troops. Sudan is allegedly providing up to 6,000 soldiers, and Qatar has already deployed around 1,000 troops through the Al Wadiah border crossing. About 10,000 coalition personnel are believed to be inside Yemen at the moment, combining those active on the Aden front, in the staging area near Marib, and just across the border in the Saudi province of Jizan. In addition to its ground component, Saudi Arabia added at least 30 Apache attack helicopters to its overall complement in Yemen.
While the joint force appears significant at face value, these seemingly high numbers represent a minimal commitment considering the extent and complexity of the terrain. Any push into the difficult, mountainous areas of Yemen will come at a high cost, as history has shown. Although Saudi-led coalition forces will spearhead the Sanaa offensive, Yemeni fighters make up the bulk of the attacking force. Questions remain about the willingness of these mostly Southern Resistance fighters to continue the offensive beyond their traditional area of operations — fighting in the mountainous terrain of the interior is very different from fighting in the southern lowlands.
Despite the weight of coalition equipment, training and support behind the indigenous anti-Houthi fighters, the battle for Sanaa will be bloody for all involved. Even during the staging phase, coalition and Yemeni forces are at risk from Houthi and Saleh-aligned strikes at standoff range. A recent strike by a Tochka ballistic missile killed scores of UAE and Saudi troops when it hit an ammunitions depot near an assembly area in Marib. Throughout Yemen, progress against Houthi and Saleh-aligned forces is intermittent. The southern offensive has made scant headway so far, pushing up from the direction of the Aden Peninsula. Heavy fighting continues in Taiz province, with Houthi forces now targeting residential areas in the provincial capital with artillery fire.
Qatar has reportedly deployed 1,000 troops to Marib province, Yemen, for the first time. Last week, a Houthi missile strike killed 60 soldiers from the Saudi-led coalition at a base in Marib. The troops died after an ammunition depot was hit in the town of Safir. The Houthi rebels described the attack as revenge against the Saudi-led coalition, which has carried out airstrikes in Yemen to restore embattled Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi.
Five Bahraini soldiers were killed Sept. 4 while patrolling Saudi Arabia's southern border with Yemen. The same day, 22 UAE troops were reportedly killed in Yemen, according to Gulf News. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are both part of the Saudi-led coalition countering Houthi forces in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition combating Houthi militants in Yemen intends to take control of Sanaa within three days, according to coalition sources, Al-Arabiya television reported Sept. 3. Anti-Houthi troops are in place east of Sanaa in the Marib province and a training camp was recently established in al-Jawf province. Houthi forces are losing ground to the coalition offensive, but the advance has slowed in areas where forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are stationed.
At least 20 people were killed and many more injured when two explosive devices detonated at a packed mosque in Sanaa's northern Jarraf district. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which was better planned and executed than previous bombings carried out by the group in Yemen's capital. In what appears to have been a two-stage attack, an individual suicide bomber detonated a fragmentation-laden bomb vest inside the mosque during evening call to prayer, then a larger car bomb exploded outside the mosque as the wounded were being carried out, according to police officials. Using a smaller device to inflict casualties and create chaos before detonating a larger device that targets gathered crowds and first responders is a standard tactic among suicide bombers.
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