Ahmad Bin Dagher Image Credit: AFP

Al Mukalla: In a recent television interview, Yemen prime minister Ahmad Bin Dagher dropped a hint of his opposition to recent raging military operation by the government forces on the rough mountains in Sana’a’s Nehim district. Prompted by a military stalemate, Bin Dagher suggested the military action should have focused on cities in the plains like the western city of Hodeida and the densely populated Taiz. “I know Nehim is geographically closer to the capital. [But] I think the key to Sana’a [liberation] begins in Taiz and Hodeida,” he said.

Forces loyal to the internationally recognised government, with huge military support from the Saudi-led coalition, launched early last year counter-attacks to purge the rebel Al Houthis and their allied forces from provinces they controlled during their rapid expansion, including the capital.

After months of a military impasse, the government forces in July and August expelled Al Houthis from all provinces in the south and in the following months from parts of the northern Jawf. The forces also made a major incursion inside Sana’a province in February, taking control of a strategic military camp in Nehim district, 35km from the capital and surrounding hills.

But instead of advancing deep into the province, government forces faced not just stiff resistance from the rebel forces, but the rugged terrain planted with a large number of landmines. For months, the government forces hardly inched beyond the positions despite massive aerial bombardment on rebels’ positions.

The slow advance prompted some military and political experts to urge commanders in the Yemeni army to review their military plan. But supporters say the government forces have accumulated military know-how and smart arms that would enable them to overcome the rough terrain and reach the capital through the current course.

“Al Houthis have no popular support base in Hodeida. They would abandon the city if the government forces attacked them,” major Mohsin Khasrouf, the chief of Yemen’s Armed Forces Moral Guidance Department, told Gulf News.

The capture of the western port city of Hodeida would not only block the rebel forces’ access to the sea, but would prevent them from the city’s seaport that generates billions of dollars to the rebel movement’s coffers. “The government forces would also be able to advance as far afield as Haraz [in Sana’a province] since Al Houthis have no supporters there,” Khasrouf said.

The military official, who is currently in Marib, believes that if coalition-backed forces recaptured the vital port cities on the Red Sea and swept into Hodeida, Taiz and Baydha, Al Houthi-held Sana’a would be “politically, economically, and militarily besieged” and the rebels would eventually be forced to give up.

In August, when the fighting intensified outside Sana’a, general Fayez Al Doweri, a military expert, said in an interview with Sky News Arabia that the government forces are far from kicking the rebels out of power if they insisted on taking the Nehim course. In the harsh regions of Nehim, “Al Houthis can obstruct the government forces’ advance with little effort,” he said, adding that the government would have completely broken the Al Houthi siege on Taiz if they used the forces there that were used in Nehim.

He suggested that taking control of Dhoubab, Mokha, Medi, Baydha and Taiz would defang Al Houthis and the ousted president’s forces. “These vital battles would force Al Houthis to give in.” he said.

Some military officials think the shortest way to recapture Sana’a passes through Nehim district despite its high mountains.

An army commander, who preferred to speak off the record, said army troops battling Al Houthis on the mountains of Nehim are getting more military experience and would eventually break Al Houthis’ defences. “This is the shortest way to reach the head of the snake. In modern warfare, technology can defeat natural hindrances. The government forces are equipped with sophisticated arms and backed by the coalition’s state-of-the-art fighter jets.” the official said. Supporters also say that government forces inside Sana’a province can easily get military reinforcement from neighbouring Marib, the base of thousands of government and coalition forces. Despite suggesting more military efforts in the west, Bin Dagher said that his government is determined to liberate Sana’a either thorough Nehim or Hodeida. “Sana’a will return to legitimacy in time.”