Al Mukalla: The recapture of the coastal regions that overlook the strategic Bab Al Mandab strait by government forces in Yemen has removed Al Houthis’ ability to threaten Aden and paved the way for government forces to quickly advance to Taiz, Yemen analysts and military experts said. It is also robbed them of an important entry point for arms supplies.
After a year of Al Houthi control, loyalists of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Southern Resistance backed some Gulf troops wrested controlled of the vital maritime corridor from Al Houthis after a brief battle early this month.
“The recapture of Bab Al Mandab has driven away the threat of Al Houthis to Aden and enabled us to quickly gain control of more ground [near] the Red Sea,” Brigadier General Ahmad Al Turki, one of commanders of Bab Al Mandab military operation, told Gulf News from the area on Thursday.
When government forces launched the “well-planned” assault on Al Houthi-controlled areas in Bab Al Mandab region, commanders expected fierce resistance from the militants and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“[Unexpectedly] our forces’ advance was largely unresisted. We managed to retake the area in five hours after heavy bombardment by warplanes and the navy,” Al Turki said.
“This shows that their morale was [low]. Today we gained control over Dhubab and we are advancing to Mocha district.”
Al Turki said that the Al Houthis would have mounted raids into Aden through Amran district if they were still in control of the strait.
Despite not publicly boasting about it, Al Houthis expanded their leverage on the important location in October last year when a local army brigade switched sides. This move promoted Egypt to threaten to intervene military if Al Houthis blocked the strait.
“The Bab Al Mandab strait is hugely important to trade from both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and in fact Egypt had publicly threatened military intervention if Al Houthis controlled Yemen’s access to the waterway long before the coalition campaign began,” Peter Salisbury, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told Gulf News.
But for the neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which led the coalition to roll back Al Houthis’ advance, the militants were using the strait to get arms cargos from Iran. “Saudi Arabia sees the area as being a key entry-point for materiel supporting Al Houthis from Iran. If anti-Al Houthi and coalition forces have managed to control the entire area ... it will be a blow to Al Houthis, as it cuts off an important entry point for supplies brought in from east Africa, placing further strain on their ability to ensure the presence of basic goods in local markets and bring in military hardware.”
Despite no reports about Al Houthis launching counterattacks to regain control of the strait, Salisbury predicted that the rebels would attempt to attack the area. “It is likely that they will push back and attempt to restore their control of the area.”