Battle of Al Hudaydah

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Battle of Al Hudaydah
Part of Yemeni Civil War
Al Hudaydah governorate offensive
Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
Battle of Hudaydah (2018).svg
Hadi Government's al Hudaydah offensive      Hadi Government control      Houthi control
Date 13 June 2018 – present
(2 months and 6 days)
Location Al Hudaydah, Yemen
14°48′08″N 42°57′04″E / 14.80222°N 42.95111°E / 14.80222; 42.95111
Status Ongoing
Territorial
changes
  • According to coalition spokesman, pro-Hadi troops and UAE Armed Forces capture the territory around Hodeida International Airport from Houthi militants on 16 June 2018.[4]
  • Saudi led coalition claims capture of Hodeida International Airport and acquisition of the airport compound from Houthi militants on 20 June 2018.[5][6]
  • UAE announces a pause to the military operations because of UN-brokered talks.[7]
Belligerents
 Yemen (Hadi government)
Southern Resistance
 United Arab Emirates
 Saudi Arabia
 Sudan[1]
Supported by:
 France
 United States
 NATO

 Yemen (Supreme Political Council)

Support:
 Iran[2][3]
Commanders and leaders
Tareq Saleh Abdul-Malik al-Houthi
Units involved

 Yemen

Southern Resistance

 United Arab Emirates

 Sudan

 France

Houthis

Strength
c. 25,000[18]
c. 1,500 troops[19]
1,000[19]–10,000[18]
Casualties and losses

Coalition:
28 killed (AFP claim by 22 June)[9]
140+ killed, 160 captured (Houthi claim)[20][21][22]
82 aggregated deaths and injuries (Houthi claim)[23]


349 vehicles destroyed (Houthi claim)[20][24]
1 naval vessel damaged (Houthi claim)[25]
156 killed (AFP claim by 22 June)[9]
290 killed, 160 captured (Coalition claim)[26]
Battle of Al Hudaydah is located in Yemen
Battle of Al Hudaydah
Location within Yemen

The Battle of Al Hudaydah (Arabic: معركة الحديدة‎, translit. Ma‘rakat al-Hudaydah), codenamed as Operation Golden Victory,[9] is a major Saudi-led coalition assault on the port city of Al Hudaydah in Yemen. It is spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and has been considered as the largest battle since the start of Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen in 2015.[27][28]

Beginning on 13 June 2018 and aiming to dislodge Houthi forces from the port, the objective of the assault is to recapture the city of Al Hudaydah and end the alleged supply of funds, weapons, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis through Al Hudaydah port.[29][30] The Houthis say that they took power through a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion.[31]

As the port plays the crucial role of delivering over 80 percent of food and aid to Yemen, several humanitarian agencies warned of catastrophic humanitarian consequences.[32] The United Nations has made various attempts and efforts to take over the control of Al Hudaydah port from Houthi and move it under its jurisdiction.[33] But the Houthis have categorically stated that they cooperate with international efforts to deliver aid to Yemen.[17] The United Nations warned that the battle could threaten the lives of 300,000 children in the populated area and prevent food delivery to millions or more.[34]

Multiple reports indicate that the war has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Yemen.[35][36][37][38]

Background

The UAE had previously proposed a naval attack on Al Hudaydah in 2016, though this was vetoed as being too risky by the United States.[39] In the intervening two years, the UAE trained thousands of Yemeni soldiers, positioning them at bases in Eritrea and along Tihamah.[39]

Geographical location

Al-Hudaydah, also spelled Hodeida or Hudaida, is one of the cities in Yemen located in Muhafazat al Hudaydah in the western part of Yemen. The latitudinal location of the city is 14.80, while the longitudinal location is 42.95.[40][41] The city is located on the Tihāmah coastal plain which borders the Red Sea.[42] Al-Hudaydah as a city has the biggest population in Muhafazat al Hudaydah.[40] Hudaydah is one of the important and strategic ports in Yemen with standard and modern facilities.[42]

Humanitarian situation

The Yemeni Civil war is an ongoing conflict that began in 2015, closely followed by a Saudi Arabian-led military intervention, leading[43] to what the United Nations describes as the "world's worst humanitarian disaster".[44] The port city of Al Hudaydah has played a crucial role in delivering imported food into the country.[45] This role has been disrupted several times over the course of the war.[45]

During the 2015 Yemeni Civil War, the Houthi-controlled city's port was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition on 18 August.[46] The port's four cranes were destroyed and several warehouses were damaged. The coalition asserted that the port was housing a hostile naval base, but humanitarian aid organizations stated the coalition's naval blockade was preventing relief from reaching those in need.[46]

In early November 2017, in response to a Houthi missile landing in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi authorities closed the port along with all other routes into Yemen. On 23 November 2017, the authorities allowed the port to reopen for aid deliveries, along with the Sana'a International Airport.[47] UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, stated on June 11 that she was "extremely concerned" about reports of a military plan by Arab coalition to capture Hudaida. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, also said that he believed "intense negotiations" by UN representative can prevent start of a war.[48] According to World Health Organization, Hudaida governorate has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the country.[49]

UN attempt at political solution

Prior to the beginning of the battle, three-quarters of humanitarian and commercial cargo entering Yemen arrived via the port of Al Hudaydah.[50] Due to the risk of a humanitarian crisis if the port is besieged, the United Nations attempted to secure an agreement to manage the port under its jurisdiction and is still negotiating in efforts with the Houthis to take control of the port.[50] The Houthis claim they have been cooperating with the international relief efforts to deliver aid to the Yemeni people.[17] The coalition claims that Houthis use the port to raise war economy funds through taxation and smuggle weapons into Yemen,[45] an allegation denied by the Houthis.[51] A week before the start of the battle, the United Nations warned up to 250,000 of the city's 600,000 residents were in danger.[45]

In a tweet on 15 June, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Yemeni Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said that "the role played by the former UN envoy did not exceed the profession of postman, and his initiative was rejected by the US-Saudi aggression in agreement with the mercenaries who refuse to accept the choice of a consensual person for the presidency."[28] Muhammad Abdel Salam, the Ansar Allah Spokesman also stated: "Despite the UN envoy's visit to Sana'a more than once and meeting with Houthi officials for a comprehensive political solution, he has not done anything yet, which appears as a cover for the continuation of aggression."[52]

Prelude

In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said the battle will harm 300,000 children who currently live in and around the city. "There are 11 million children in need of humanitarian aid and the attack will lead to choke off this lifeline and have devastating consequences", the statement said.[34] The United Arab Emirates initially stated that it would not attack the port without the support of the United States and the United Kingdom.[50] The United States Government initially expressed concerns about the risks of a battle, though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis subsequently offered qualified support.[50]

According to Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, the Houthis were warned to evacuate the city within 48 hour and the deadline for Houthi forces to withdraw from Hudaydah expired on the morning of 13 June.[53] The Houthis say that they took power through a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion.[31]

Care International's acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk, warned from Sana'a of an even worse human catastrophe. "People are already exhausted, starving, and have no means to cope with any further escalation of war."[32] Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Yemeni Supreme Revolutionary Committee, called on all international organizations to take a serious stance on the aggression and the unprecedented threat it poses to the vital port of Hudaydah, reiterating its continued full cooperation with the international relief efforts to deliver aid to all the Yemeni people.[17]

Western support

United States and other western powers have been criticized by human rights group for supporting Arab coalition airstrikes that have resulted in death of many civilians.[37]

France agreed to use minesweepers to clear explosive and sea mines which were placed by the Houthis around Al Hudaydah Port in anticipation of the attack, hence paving a way for the assault.[54] France also sent special forces.[55]

According to Al Mayadeen, the forces of the Saudi and UAE operation depend on American support for weapons, gear, and coordinates via satellite, as well as refueling planes and the help of combat experts and retired US officers. In preparation for the war, US officers also supervised the training of 2,000 fighters in Eritrea who arrived at the coasts of Hudayda.[56]

Houthis have routinely accused Israel of being involved in the war against Yemen. On 2 June, Houthi spokesman, Muhammad Abd al-Salam said they have documented participation of Israeli planes in the war. He stated that the reason Israel doesn't acknowledge its role is that it does not want cause trouble for the Arab coalition.[57]

The battle

The Saudi-led coalition stated that they had intended the war to be swift and short to avoid causing civilian casualties. The aim was to force Houthis to come to the negotiation table. According to the New York Times the battle has worsened the humanitarian disaster.[35] Coalition forces have established a forward operating base at the nearby town of al-Khoka, south of Al Hudaydah.[58]

13 June

According to Yemeni officials, approximately 2,000 Emirati troops assaulted Al Hudaydah, departing from a UAE naval base in Eritrea.[30][53] A worker for CARE reported hearing at least 30 airstrikes on the first day of fighting as the city population was caught in a panic.[32] On the first day of the battle, Emirati and coalition forces reportedly moved to capture Hodeida International Airport, approaching within a few miles.[53][30]

On the first day of fighting, 250 Houthi combatants were also reported killed.[59]

Almasirah and Houthi spokesman Loai al-Shami claimed that Houthi forces hit a coalition ship with two missiles, though this remains unconfirmed.[53][30] The Armed Forces of the UAE has reported that four Emirati soldiers died as of 13 June.[60]

In an official statement the Houthi-allied Yemeni Marine and Coastal Defense Command expressed its high readiness to counter the offensive on the port, warning of more attacks on the invading naval forces. It also added that there's no concern for civilian ships to reach for Hudayda so long as they stayed committed to international maritime law. It also stressed the Yemeni naval forces' national and religious responsibility in defending Yemen's sovereignty and territorial integrity.[16]

The Ansar Allah movement leader, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi stated that the United States was the leading player in the attack on Hudayda and that other parties were "tools". He added that Yemenis are fighting "the battle of liberation and resistance, and confront tyranny and arrogance on all fronts".[61]

14 June

Forces loyal to the internationally recognized Yemeni government claimed on 14 June that they could breach the first line of defence by Houthis defending the city.[27] Medical sources reported that thirty Houthi militants were killed near Hodeida airport[62] along with another nine pro-Hadi soldiers.[27] According to Emirati Ambassador to the United Nations Obeid Salem Al Zaabi, coalition forces reached just 2 km from the city airport.[28]

Two Houthi commanders were reported to have been killed in the ensuing battle, and the coalition claims to have discovered "hundreds" of land mines planted by the Houthis to halt the advance of Pro-Hadi and coalition soldiers in Al Hudaydah.[63]

15 June

The United Arab Emirates issued 10 ships and 3 flights carrying food and aid bound to Al Hudaydah.[64]

Yemeni army officials claimed that dozens of its members have been killed mostly by Houthi landmines and roadside bombs planted around the city and disguised as rocks.[64]

Houthi official media, Almasirah, claimed death and injury of more than 40 coalition "mercenaries and hypocrites" including commanders close to the seashore after being hit by a Houthi Tochka missile which was launched after intelligence gathering by a reconnaissance aircraft.[65]

16 June

The coalition claimed it was close to capturing Hudayda airport from Houthi control amid clashes outside the airport.[37] The coalition reportedly seized the airport on 16 June and engineers were placed to remove landmines placed around the airport.[4]

Al Mayadeen reporters in Yemen initially claimed the pro-Houthi army and Popular Committees had the airport under control.[66] It also reported that the coalition failed in their push for the airport and had to settle in the seashore.[67] Houthis media denied that the airport was under coalition control and claimed that the coalition forces in the seashore were surrounded from three sides blocking reinforcements from reaching them by land.[68]

Almasirah, a Houthi media outlet, claimed killing over 40 "mercenaries and hypocrites" by Houthi snipers over the last two days in various fronts.[69]

17 June

According to The National, captured Houthi POW have indicated that Houthi forced intended to blow up Hodeida International Airport terminals if coalition forces continued their assault to capture it and has planted thousand landmines across the area. Commander of the coalition forces, Tareq Saleh, has indicated that many of captured Houthis were forced to fight in Al Hudaydah, many of whom were coerced into fighting with threats made against their family members if they refused.[70]

19 June

Houthis claimed to have fired a missile at the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in 'Asir in southwestern Saudi Arabia.[citation needed]

Multiple news agencies reported that the coalition captured large areas of Al Hudaydah airport.[71][72] However Almasirah, pro-Houthi news agency, wrote that numerous attempts by the coalition to take over the airport failed despite mobilization of all the coalition soldiers. Almasirah also reported destruction of all buildings inside the Al Hudaydah airport as a result of coalition's heavy aerial bombings and claimed several "heroic" victories by the pro-Houthi army, citing their advance preparations and intelligence work before the start of the war for their success and citing the destruction of 20 coalition armored vehicles and capture of another 10.[73]

Almasirah also reported death of 6 Yemeni civilians including 4 women as a result of coalition on aerial bombings on Al Hudaydah.[74] A claim that was denied by coalition Colonel Turki Al-Malki citing that there was no civilian casualties on the coalition advance on the airport.[75] The coalition accused pro-Houthi militants of breaking international law and placing tanks inside residential areas of Al Hudaydah.[76]

20 June

Almasirah reported a public statement by "Southern National Front to Resist the Invasion" which protested against recruitment of young southern Yemenis by the UAE to fight for the coalition of aggression, calling on the southern tribes to prevent their children from being sent to "death camps" in the West Coast to serve the foreign agenda.[77] Mohammed Ali al-Houthi also ordered the Houthi-founded Supreme Political Council to declare amnesty for "mercenaries" who surrender themselves because "every retreat proves they have been forced to fight" for the coalition.[78] Saudi Arabia announced that Yemeni forces captured the airport from Houthi forces, which was again denied by Almasirah.[79]

22 June

Reports regarding shortage of electricity and water for Al Hudaydah residents continue to rise, and relief workers attribute the water shortage due to damaged pipes caused by Houthi trench digging.[80]

Almasirah released video of Houthi forces destroying coalition armored vehicles south of al-Hudaydah airport.[81]

24 June

On 24 June, clashes occurred in Al Hudaydah city, near to the Al Hudaydah university, which is located three kilometers from the city center.[82] Almasirah also reported death and injury of 22 coalition fighters in various battlefields during over two days.[83]

26 June

Almasirah reported death of 24 civilians including children and women as a result of coalition airstrike on a bus that was relocating people in province of Omran. Houthi-aligned Yemeni Parliament also strongly criticized "international silence" over the coalition war crimes and blockade.[84]

28 June

The Houthi affiliated Almasirah reported death of over 50 coalition troops, and destruction of 18 military vehicles and devices belonging to the coalition in clashes south of Hudaida.[85] Almasirah also reported death and injury of over 60 coalition fighters by Ansar Allah sniper units in various battlefields over the last three days.[83]

3 July

Almasirah reported that coalition airstrikes targeted a school in Hudayda killing 3 and injuring another 4.[86] It also reported targeting of a wedding party which killed 11 and wounded 11 mostly women and children with the coalition airplanes hovering over the area for some time afterwards not allowing residents to recover the dead bodies and treating the wounded.[87] Three human rights organizations condemned the attack calling on international bodies to break their silence.[88] The head of Ansar Allah Justice Department, urged UN envoy in Yemen to voice his opinion on the recent carnage and refrain from double standard.[89] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the attack saying that whenever the coalition loses in the battlefields it targets civilians for revenge.[90]

25–26 July

Saudi Arabia confirmed that Houthis hit a Saudi oil tanker off the western coast.[91] Saudi energy minister announced on 26 July that the country temporarily ceases oil shipment through Bab-el-Mandeb straight after two Saudi vessels were hit by the Houthi movement.[92] The decision led to increase in oil prices.[93] The Houthi officials had earlier threatened that they would block the vital strait to force the coalition to stop its air strikes on Yemen. Mohammed al-Houthi said that they are able to reach high seas and Saudi ports but they want to keep the strait open in order not to give the coalition an excuse to justify their ongoing war.[94] Abdel Bari Atwan, a famous Arab journalist wrote about unofficial information indicating UAE's preparations for evacuating its ground forces from Yemen after their failure to achieve their goals in war and increasing internal pressures in UAE.[95]

27 July

Muhammed Abdel Salam, a senior Houthi spokesman warned that the coalition's cities would be targeted in relations for their ceaseless attacks on Yemen. "The Yemeni Army is not after bombarding (other countries), but cannot also sit back. From now on, the capitals of the Arab coalition members will no longer be safe," He said. This followed Houthi's claim that they had targeted UAE international airport in Abu Dhabi, which was denied by UAE authorities.[96] On 27 July, in response to the Houthi attack against two Saudi Arabia's oil tankers, the Saudi-led coalition intensified airstrikes on Houthi-controlled areas in Hodeidah, reportedly the airstrikes targeted military police headquarters and other bases controlled by the Houthi fighters in Hodeidah, causing damage to the city's infrastructure. As a result, dozens of families were forced to flee their homes following the intensive airstrikes.[97]

29 July

On 29 July, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, also issued a statement in response to 23 July strike on a water facility in Hodaida saying that the recent airstrikes are putting innocent civilians at extreme risk. The statement read “despite working under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, we’ve reached 80 percent of the people displaced by fighting with some form of assistance. Cholera is already present in neighborhoods across the city and governorate. Damage to sanitation, water and health facilities jeopardizes everything we are trying to do. We could be one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic.”[98]

4 August

Coalition reportedly conducted airstrikes near the main public hospital and fish market in Hudaydah. About 30 people were killed and 70 injured in the airstrikes. The coalition denied carrying out any attacks in the city and blamed the attacks on Houthi rebels.[99]

UN attempt for political solution

On 16 June, Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa amid growing fears that the war will cut the only lifeline to the country population.[37] On 26 June, UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, arrived in Aden to persuade Hadi for a political solution and termination of war. The Houthis reportedly had shown willingness to hand over control of Hudaida port to the UN but Hadi and UAE insisted that the Houthis must evacuate the entire city.[100]

On 30 June, the coalition spokesman announced a temporary pause of the offensive for progress of political dialogue.[101] However, Houthi spokesman, Abdl al-Salam called UAE's declaration of ceasefire "deception", saying that the assaults on the West coast has not stopped and that UAE was only trying to save face.[102] Houthis deputy prime minister, Hussein Maqbuli, received UN coordinator, Lise Grande in Sanna discussing the conditions of over 24000 internally displaced families in Yemen who according to Maqbuli were intimidated and compelled by the coalition to evacuate their villages and towns, a policy which he said was a crime under international law.[36] Spokesman of the Houthi-aligned Yemeni air-force said on 2 July that the coalition failed in their war despite claiming that they would capture Hudaida over two days. He also said that they are using enhanced drones in their airstrikes on the coalition troops in the West coast.[103]

Impact on the humanitarian situation

Reuters reported on 16 June that the battle led to the closure of the northern entrance of the western city Hodeidah, which leads to Sanaa, blocking a main exit out of the city and making it harder to transport goods from the country's largest port to mountainous regions.[37]

The pro-Hadi government minister of human rights denounced the Houthis tactics of planting sea and land mines around Al Hudaydah port as a war crime.[104]

According to Houthi deputy prime minister, Hussein Maqbuli, the coalition has forced over 24000 families to evacuate their towns and villages which he described as a crime under international law.[36]

The battle forced about 2000 high-school students in Al Hudaydah to escape to Sanaa to take part in university admission exams. The reception of the students in Sanaa is an example of Houthi led efforts to alleviate social frustration in areas under their control.[105]

According to UNICEF and UN Humanitarian Coordinator, coalition airstrikes including attacks on water and health facilities in Yemen have put the lives of innocent civilians at extreme risk and are undermining UN efforts to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian disaster, warning of an immediate possibility of an uncontrollable cholera epidemic.[98][38][95]

Reactions

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi blamed the assault on Western inaction, saying that the British assured them a week earlier that no coalition troops would attack Hudayda "without their agreement and assistance".[28] Houthi spokesman Abdul Salem also stated that aggression in the West Coast "lacks moral and social values, so the aggressors resort to media show off and psychological warfare".[52]

International reactions

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the operation, claiming it would cause a humanitarian disaster.[106]

Hezbollah's Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, stated that Arabs must be fighting against Israel not Yemen. Alluding to the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against Yemen, he stated "for decades there has been no ‘Decisive Storm,’ not even a slight gust of resolve to fight Israel." He accused Saudi Arabia of abandoning the Palestinian people and warned that KSA would face a humiliating defeat if it didn't resolve the conflict through negotiations. In reference to governments taking part in the war against Yemen, he asked “should the region go to war because of Saudi money?”[107]

On 13 June 2018, the United Kingdom requested an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the battle.[108] More than forty members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to call for a ceasefire and to stop supplying weapons to coalition nations if necessary.[27] The session concluded with a rejection and opposition to call for a ceasefire and the immediate withdrawal of the Saudi led forces, but has instead urged sides to uphold international humanitarian law during the battle.[109]

Prior to the beginning of the fighting, members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mattis, urging the United States Department of Defense to attempt to prevent or delay the assault.[50] The United States did not express opposition to the offense and has offered airstrike target assistance and qualified support, but noted increasing concerns regarding humanitarian consequences.[50]

UNICEF issued a warning that the attack could threaten the lives of 300,000 children in the populated area and prevent food delivery to as many as 250,000 of the 600,000 population of Al Hudaydah.[34] However, the United Nations Security Council rejected a call for a ceasefire and the immediate withdrawal of the Saudi led forces, but has instead urged sides to uphold international humanitarian law during the battle.[109]

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