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How the Saudi-led coalition is sinking in political and military failures in Yemen Open in fullscreen

A Yemeni journalist

How the Saudi-led coalition is sinking in political and military failures in Yemen

Since 2015, Riyadh has led a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 October, 2019

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While the Saudi-led coalition failures in Yemen keep swelling, the Houthi confidence keeps boosting.
Bodies of fighters were scattered on the ground and armoured vehicles were set ablaze. An abundance of arms and ammunitions were taken over. 

The captives were in hundreds, mainly Yemenis, fighting for Saudi Arabia and the embattled Yemeni government. That was the most recent tremendous loss of the Saudi-led forces on border with Yemen.

The advanced land military equipment imported from different countries including US, UK and Canada ended up destroyed, charred or seized. 

The three Saudi-led military brigades moved in August towards Houthi-controlled Saada – the stronghold of the rebel group – and they penetrated areas in this province unopposed.

The Houthis orchestrated a military trap and incapacitated the three brigades. The details of the attack remained in the dark until late September when the Houthis revealed a footage, documenting what they called the "large-scale" operation.  

The material loss is seemingly forgettable for the Saudi-led coalition. But the human loss is undeniably painful. This is a disheartening blow to the coalition-led forces and a strong lesson for pro-Saudi Yemenis who want to join fighting on the Saudi border.

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Yahia Saree, the military spokesperson for the Houthis, said that over 200 Saudi-led fighters were killed and more than 2,000 became captives.

The Houthis may exaggerate in their account of what happened but this operation remains a clear-cut evidence that the Saudi military prowess is not powerful enough to impose a military solution in Yemen. 

Notwithstanding, the oil-rich kingdom continues to spend billions of dollars on its army and defence capabilities, it has not been capable of at least fending off the Houthi incursions on the border or the drone attacks that have repeatedly hit its vital facilities including the devastating September attack on its giant Aramco oil plant.

Despite the enormity of the loss, Saudi Arabia denied the Houthi operation, dubbing it as "propaganda". On Monday, Saudi-led coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki called the Houthi announcement "theatrical". He deemed it as part of the Houthi "attempts to mislead" international and regional media.

Maliki has a counter-narrative of this attack. He said it was a "failed ambush attempt" by the Houthis which the coalition thwarted. According to him, over 1,500 Houthis were killed, and 250 weapon and supply-transporting vehicles destroyed.

Mohammed Abdu, a Yemen-based independent journalist focusing on politics, said that denial is the response to the coalition to any Houthi operation. In addition, the coalition responds by intensifying the airstrikes in Houthi-controlled areas, mainly targeting civilians.

"The coalition failure in Yemen politically and militarily cannot be denied. They cannot deny they have not won the war over the last four and half years. They cannot deny they have failed to restore the Yemeni government and they cannot deny their war have led Yemen to ruins. Despite the Saudi military superiority over the Houthis, the kingdom has grown more vulnerable than ever before," Abdu told The New Arab.

Despite the Saudi military superiority over the Houthis, the kingdom has grown more vulnerable than ever before

An action plan or just an empty threat?

While the Saudi-led coalition failures in Yemen keep swelling, the Houthi confidence keeps boosting. On Wednesday, the Houthi-run Supreme Political Council in Sanaa, said in a statement that preparations are underway for further attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The Council pointed out that the recent attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil plant were merely a "tip of the iceberg" and their military capabilities can inflict further destruction in case Saudi Arabia does not positively respond to their peace calls.

"Large-scale preparations are underway for unrestricted and powerful strikes, which will be enough to crash the aggressor if peaceful efforts and dialogue do not bring success," the Houthi Al Masirah TV channel cited the council as saying.

The Houthis threatened to escalate and target both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Last month, they warned the UAE’s oil companies and "glass cities" will be future targets if this Gulf state continues to participate in the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The UAE announced in June its drawdown from Yemen, saying that the Houthis should see the pullback as a "confidence-building and "critical opportunity" to make progress on peace.

Apparently, the Houthi threats stem from a serious action plan and looking down upon such threats would be unwise.

The Saudi-led coalition has been stuck in Yemen due to the mistaken understanding of the Houthi rising military capabilities and the delusion that the huge Western arms sales to the Saudis would be effective in deterring the Houthi threats.

"The Houthis have significantly amped up their cross-border attacks since December 2017, launching many drone and missile strikes on military installations, power stations, airports, and oil and gas fields in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," said an article recently published by The American Foreign Policy Magazine.

It added, "Saudis, in turn, have invested billions of dollars in air defence systems from the United States, which have nevertheless failed to shield the kingdom from incoming attacks by Iran and its proxies."

The continuous ground losses of the Saudi-led forces constitute a source of the Houthi armament.

The Houthi military spokesperson said in a statement this week, "To those who ask about the source of our weapons, we proudly respond that the first source is the enemy himself. What has been seized in [the latest operation] will suffice us to fight enemy several months."  

While the Saudi-Yemen border areas witness a hellish frontline, other frontlines such as Hodeida, Taiz, Dhale and Nehm have been relatively less violent over the last months.

Saudi Arabia is intensifying its military operations in Saada, basing this strategy on the view that if the coalition manages to beat the Houthis in their stronghold, they can easily be crushed in other areas in Yemen.  

The prolonging war in Yemen has posed explicit threats for Saudis at home besides exposing their military fragility and improper foreign policy.

"MbS [Saudi crown prince] began his reign with an ambitious foreign policy. He pushed President Donald Trump to escalate against Iran, ramped up the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and launched a dramatic blockade against his rivals in Qatar. Now, his policies are blowing up in his face," said the US The National Interest magazine this week.

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