Yemen’s Houthis pushed back in Marib, the ‘last line’ before Sanaa
It came as a second Emirati soldier died in the Marib campaign on Monday, taking the toll for UAE soldiers killed in the Yemen conflict to 54 after another death on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the commander of an Emirati contingent taking part in the campaign, Brigadier General Ali Saif Al Kaabi, said that the provincial capital had been secured, with the rebels who once surrounded it forced into the mountains.
This was important, Brig Gen Al Kaabi said, because “if you want to go to Sanaa, you need to get to Marib, it’s the last line”.
Although the rebels have abandoned many areas of the province, the advance of Yemeni troops and militias and the armed forces of the Saudi-led regional coalition, which includes the UAE, is being slowed by mines laid by the rebels, top Yemeni commander Brigadier General Murad Turaiq said.
The Emirati soldier who dies on Monday was killed by one of these mines.
Brig Gen Murad Turaiq said Yemeni troops and Gulf special forces had captured several areas around Sirwah district since the Marib offensive was launched on Sunday.
“We are attacking Sirwah district, which is still under the control of the Houthis, and we have imposed a siege on them,” said Brig Gen Turaiq, who heads the Yemen military in Marib and Al Baydah provinces.
The areas around Sirwah now under loyalist control include Sayaf hill, Maher hill and Al Dashoosh, and Brig Gen Turaiq said it was only a matter of time till Sirwah was taken as the Houthi morale was low.
He said the assault would be escalated. “We still have a lot of forces that have not yet joined the battle” such as Emirati troops and Yemeni army soldiers who have been trained in Saudi Arabia.
Forces from the UAE and Saudi have played a leading role in the months-long campaign to liberate Yemen from the Iran-allied Houthis, and have been at the forefront of the offensive in Marib.
It comes after 52 Emirati soldiers were killed on September 4 when a missile hit an arms depot at the Safer camp in Marib.
“We won’t forget our blood,” Brig Gen Al Kaabi said. “This is a personal thing for the soldiers.”
The Houthi missile also killed at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain. Saudi Arabia said five of its soldiers were also killed on the Yemeni border on Sunday.
Military sources said there had been casualties on both sides in Marib, and that a number of Houthis were taken captive.
“The battle is ongoing and we have confiscated many Houthi military vehicles, but we are advancing slowly as they planted many landmines before leaving and we need to clear them before we take control of the area to avoid casualties,” said Brig Gen Turaiq.
Mines left behind after the rebels were forced from Aden in July caused many casualties, and in Marib, the loyalist and coalition forces are using minesweepers before entering abandoned Houthi positions.
On Al Masaryah hill, which was captured on Sunday, minesweepers were being deployed under a team of engineers from the Gulf forces, led by the UAE. “These landmines cannot stop us from clearing our province from the Houthis,” Brig Gen Turaiq said.
Coalition warplanes on Monday targeted Houthi military reinforcements headed towards Marib, he said. “We are going to free Marib in the next days and then we will go towards Sanaa.”
Mohammed Al Gadasi, a journalist based in Marib, said the Houthis did not appear to be putting up a strong resistance, which was why the casualties so far were low.
He said that local resistance fighters among the pro-government forces gave them an advantage.
“Marib is not an open area for fighting and it is tough environment to fight in, but the resistance fighters are from Marib so it is an easy thing for them,” he said.
Al Gadasi said artillery and the tanks from the Yemen army’s third military region had been shelling the rebels in Sirwah since Sunday.
Oil-rich Marib lies east of Sanaa and has been the scene of heavy clashes between the northern-based Houth rebels and powerful tribes allied with president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, who has been forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition, which is seeking to restore Mr Hadi’s internationally recognised government, has been building up its forces in Marib for months in preparation for the ongoing campaign.
At a landing zone in Safer camp, fully-armed coalition Apache helicopters were taking off and returning, as a convoy of armoured vehicles and personnel carriers headed to the front.
Coalition forces have deployed Patriot missile defence systems following the September 4 attack on the camp, Yemeni military sources said.
* With additional reporting by Associated Press