Al Mukalla: Shortly after the Iran-backed Al Houthis murdered their leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s ousted president, on December 4, thousands of his supporters deserted battlefields where they had been fighting alongside Al Houthis. They had revenge on their minds. But first, they had to find a place where they could regroup, get arms and stage attacks against Al Houthis.
In January, Saleh’s nephew and the commander of his special guards, Tareq Mohammad Abdullah Saleh, vowed to lead the fight against Al Houthis. It was a public message to the ousted president’s supporters who wanted to avenge his death to head to the port city of Aden, the base of the internationally-recognised government. Thousands of soldiers and tribesmen sneaked into Aden, where they met Tareq and got together in military camps sponsored by the Saudi-led coalition.
A close aide to Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gulf News the defectors included thousands of soldiers from the elite Republican Guards and Special Forces, who had shored up the Al Houthi movement for three years and facilitated their rapid expansion in 2014 and 2015.
“Those forces did not spend much time at Aden’s military camp as they are elite forces and were in need of arms only,” the aide said on conditions of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters.
Yemen Today television, the mouthpiece of Saleh’s General People’s Congress, reported Tareq’s forces reorganised in three brigades and the Saudi-led coalition equipped them with state-of-the-art arms, military combat vehicles and air defence systems. Saleh’s aide said the forces were transported with their arms on the coalition’s ships to the Red Sea town of Mokha.
As the forces began trickling into their new military base, Al Houthis fired a barrage of ballistic missiles and mortar rounds at the town in a bid to prevent Tareq’s men from regrouping. Last week, columns of armed vehicles were seen moving into desert and mountainous areas in Taiz, opening a new battlefield. The younger Saleh appeared in a video chairing a meeting of officers at a command room.
The Saudi-led coalition said Tareq’s forces headed eastward to push Al Houthis from strategic mountains on the borders of Taiz and Hodeida, as other anti-Al Houthis forces were preparing for a new offensive on Hodeida along the province’s coastline. Tareq’s forces would cut off Al Houthis in Taiz from other provinces and prevent them from attacking the advancing troops along the Red Sea areas.
Unlike other Yemeni forces who joined the fighting against Al Houthis since day one, Tareq’s forces fought alongside Al Houthis for three years. Hence, analysts believe, they pose a serious threat to the militiamen as they are highly trained fighters who know the battlefields very well, and can identify Al Houthis’ locations and arms depots.
In a bid to confront the threat posed by Tareq’s troops, Al Houthis held an emergency meeting with social and military dignitaries in Hodeida province, and asked them to incite people to join the battle.
To boost their supporters’ morale, Al Houthis announced pushing back the offensive by Tareq’s forces and making new gains in Taiz. But photos and videos posted on social media, showing bodies of Al Houthi militants abandoned on the battlefield, told a different story.
Given Tareq’s military know-how and state-of-the-art weapons, his forces can make major breakthroughs in the battlefield, which includes liberating the southern city of Taiz and the port city of Hodeida, the last major coastal area under Al Houthi control.
Major Mohsen Khasrouf, the chief of Yemen’s Armed Forces’ Moral Guidance Department, said on Sky News Arabia that escalating attacks on Al Houthis would lead to the breaking of their defences and pushing them from key cities like Taiz and Hodeida.
“This is an important step towards liberating Taiz and then moving northwards towards Hodeida,” Khasrouf said.