Wearing the traditional Yemeni “futa” sarongs and sandals, the fighters of the Tihama Resistance are playing a key role in the battle to free Hodeidah province from the Houthi rebels.
Although the focus is now on the offensive to retake Hodeidah city and its port, the resistance, named after the plains countryside along the Red Sea coast in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, is manning fronts across the province.
In Haiys district near the borders with Taez and Ibb provinces, Tihama fighters keep watch to prevent Houthi reinforcements from entering Hodeidah.
Saddam Al Qadi, one of the commanders, said the Houthis get support from fellow fighters based in the mountains of Ibb, where air raids of the Arab coalition cannot reach them.
On fronts closer to the coast, members of the Tihama Resistance are fighting alongside the forces of Tariq Saleh, nephew of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was killed by the Houthis in December after he broke off his alliance with the rebels.
Mr Saleh leads a force comprised of members of his uncle’s former Republican Guard that, along with the Tihama Resistance and Al Amalikah brigades from southern provinces, are the three main Yemeni groups fighting in Hodeidah alongside the Saudi-led Arab military coalition.
The Arab coalition has provided four months of training for all the groups, as well as pick-up trucks, fuel and food - even for the fighters’ families. But all parties feel that they need more weaponry, according to Nabil Al Suheily, an officer in Mr Saleh’s force, and more so the Tihama, whose arms are limited to heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Tihama Resistance mobilised against the Houthis before the Arab coalition intervened in the war in March 2015 at the request of the Yemeni government. The rebels entered Hodeidah in late 2014 after seizing the capital Sanaa in September.
“There were always a resistance from inside, secretively, without support or money,” said Marwan, a 19-year-old fighter now based in the port town of Khokha, south of Hodeidah city.
“We just didn’t accept the Houthis, we already felt marginalised by the Zaydis who were in charge of all major ranks during the former regime,” he said, referring to the Shiite sect to which both the Houthis and former president Mr Saleh belonged.
Marwan said many young men left the city to join a small brigade led by Ahmed Kawkabani, a former member Yemen’s marines from Hodeidah who received support from the Arab coalition. “We all fled Hodeidah to Aden, then left by boat from Mokha to train on the islands of Zuqar and Hanish."
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Many of the fighters who went to train had been part of a peaceful Tihama resistance movement known as Al Harak Al Tihami, said Taha Al Harad, one of its leaders.
The movement "was meant to demand the rights of the people to be well represented and get high-ranking jobs in our province", Mr Al Harad said. "That was when it was started, in December 2011. Then when the Houthis came to the city, many were forced to take up arms.”
Like some other Tihama members, he has reservations about the resistance fighting alongside Mr Saleh's forces, who until recently were allied with the Houthis.
But Tihama commander Mr Kawkabani said the war against the Houthis brought differing sides together. “We all have the same enemy now,” he said.
And despite fears about the humanitarian impact, he supported the offensive on Hodeidah city, which succeeded in retaking the airport on Saturday.
“It will prevent the Houthis from using the port. It will also stop the flow of money that has allowed them to pay salaries and bribe people,” he said.
“It will break their back, so it will make it easier to conquer them in other cities.”