The coalition march on Sanaa continues unabated. Forces loyal to President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi took control of a major Yemeni Republican Guard base northeast of Sanaa on Feb. 1. The base is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the edge of Yemen's capital city. Though pockets of Houthi fighters are scattered throughout the large military complex, the clearance operation is well underway, heavily supported by Saudi-led coalition air power. Coalition air support, which included the use of Emirati Mirage aircraft in the ground attack role, aided the advance on the base and the subsequent break-in battle. Over the past few days, coalition forces gained control of the mountaintops overlooking the complex, putting Hadi's forces in a dominant, elevated position. From there, it was a case of coordinating the assault and overpowering the Houthi defenses.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Sanaa, 76 Republican Guard soldiers previously loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh surrendered. Then, in a blow to the morale of Saleh's remaining forces, they defected to the Hadi camp. Within the city itself, coalition aircraft have bombarded warehouses containing weapons and ammunition, further diminishing the defensive capabilities of forces in the capital.
Having taken a key strongpoint on the approach to Sanaa, coalition forces could reach the outskirts within days. The initial entry point for ground forces is likely to be Sanaa International Airport, roughly 8 kilometers north of the city center. A move to take the airport could happen sooner, if prompted, but the coalition may choose to slow its advance, taking control of crucial high ground along their axis of advance. Controlling the mountainous terrain overlooking their approach affords the attackers a degree of protection.
In a separate incident, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took control of the town of Azzan in Shabwa province Feb. 1. Although this was touted as an expansion of AQAP toward the oil and natural gas fields in Marib, the reality is that AQAP has dominated the area for some time, certainly since earlier in the current Yemen crisis. Local militias are simply too weak to confront the strength of AQAP in this particular region. As a result, they withdrew their checkpoints and personnel; AQAP took control of the town without having to fight for it.