As reported first thing today, while the initial phase of the military campaign against Yemen has been taking place for the past 18 hours and been exclusively one of airborne assaults by forces of the “Decisive Storm” coalition, Saudi hinted at what is coming next following reports that it had built up a massive 150,000 troop deployment on the border with Yemen.
And as expected, moments ago AP reported that Egyptian military and security officials told The Associated Press that the military intervention will go further, with a ground assault into Yemen by Egyptian, Saudi and other forces, planned once airstrikes have weakened the capabilities of the rebels.
Will this invasion mean that Yemen as we know it will no longer exist and become annexed by Saudi Arabia? According to coalition military sources, the answer is no, but that remains to be seen:
Three Egyptian military and security officials told The Associated Press that a coalition of countries led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia will conduct a ground invasion into Yemen once the airstrikes have sufficiently diminished the Houthis and Saleh’s forces. They said the assault will be by ground from Saudi Arabia and by landings on Yemen’s Red and Arabian Sea coasts.
The aim is not to occupy Yemen but to weaken the Houthis and their allies until they enter negotiations for power-sharing, the officials said.
They said three to five Egyptian troop carriers are stationed off Yemen’s coasts. They would not specify the numbers of troops or when the operation would begin. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the plans with the press.
Egypt’s leadership role in the next stage of the campaign has come as somewhat of a surprise to observers. Egypt’s presidency said in a statement Thursday that its naval and air forces were participating in the coalition campaign already. Egypt is “prepared for participation with naval, air and ground forces if necessary,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said at a gathering of Arab foreign ministers preparing for a weekend Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
This may be just the beginning:
The Arab Summit starting Saturday is expected to approve the creation of a new joint Arab military force to intervene in regional crises. The Egyptian security and military officials said the force is planned to include some 40,000 men backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor. Hadi is expected to attend the summit.
The locals do not sound much enthused about the prospect of allowing foreign troops to enter their country uncontested, and as AP notes, support for the Houthis is far from universal in Yemen – but foreign intervention risks bringing a backlash.
On Thursday, thousands gathered outside Sanaa’s old city in the Houthi-organized protest, chanting against Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Khaled al-Madani, a Houthi activist, told the crowd that “God was on the side of Yemen.” He blasted Saudi Arabia saying it is “buying mercenaries with money to attack Yemen. But Yemen will, God willing, will be their tomb.”
Anger against the strikes was already brewing – particularly after airstrikes targeting an air base near Sanaa’s airport flattening half a dozen homes in an impoverished neighborhood and killing at least 18 civilians, according to the health ministry.
For now Yemeni anger is focused on Saudi Arabia:
TV stations affiliated with the rebels and Saleh showed the aftermath of the strikes Thursday. Yemen Today, a TV station affiliated with Saleh, showed hundreds of residents congregating around the rubbles, some chanting “Death to Al-Saud”, in reference to the kingdom’s royal family. The civilians were sifting through the rubble, pulling out mattresses, bricks and shrapnel.
Ahmed al-Sumaini said an entire alley close to the airport was wiped out in the strikes overnight. He said people ran out from their homes in the middle of the night, many jolted out of bed to run into the streets. “These people have nothing to do with the Houthis or with Hadi. This is destructive. These random acts will push people toward Houthis,” he said, as he waved shrapnel from the strikes.
Strikes also hit in the southern province Lahj and the stronghold of Houthis in the northern Saada province. In Sanaa, they also hit the camp of U.S.-trained Yemeni special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh, and a missile base held by the Houthis.
But that will soon change, as it is a virtual certainty that the US will intervene at a point in the near future, with its own military assets. So while we await to see just where US troops make landfall, here is the most updated map showing the locations of US naval assets around the globe in general, and in proximity to Yemen in particular. Keep a very close eye on the LHD-7 Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship (which carries some 2,000 marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit), currently located just off the coast of Yemen.