Conflict Alerts # 374, 5 May 2021
In the news
On 25 April, Agency France Press (AFP) reported: "the (Houthi) rebels have taken full control of the North-West Kassara battlefield and made progress on western frontlines towards Marib". The AFP's report also stated that the battle for Marib had moved to the Al-Min area which is just 6 kilometres away from the city. However, the very next day, Yemen's Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani denied the credibility of the news and declared it as misinformation.
On 2 May, Yemen's Major General, Abdu Abdullah Majili, announced that Yemini troops had successfully expelled militias from numerous locations in the Al-Kasara and Al-Mashjah region through a series of attacks. He also mentioned that three rebels were captured, and twenty rebel vehicles were destroyed during the attack. The Arab coalition forces provided air support during the attacks and managed to disrupt the flow of weaponry between rebel forces.
Issues at large
First, the long battle for Marib. It started in February' despite efforts calling for a ceasefire by the Saudi coalition in March, the rebels have been persistent in gaining control over the city. Since then, numerous airstrikes have been conducted by the Arab coalition targeting the Houthis, and the Houthis have retaliated with missile strikes of their own. The recent escalations, however, have been the bloodiest so far. The rebels have been attacking Marib relentlessly in successive waves, with the initial waves consisting of novice fighters (including children). Despite losing hundreds of fighters, the Houthis have continued to reinforce their ranks with members from nearby regions, thereby prolonging the fight.
Second, the significance of Marib. Not only is Marib the last major stronghold of the Yemeni government in the North, it also houses a large number of oil fields, refineries and natural gas pipelines. The city also has a dam that acts as the primary source of freshwater for the nearby regions. All these factors contribute to why Marib is sought after by both parties. The Houthis desperately want to hamstring the functioning of the government before entering into any negotiation. Victory over Marib would unquestionably cement their dominance in the northern region and cripple the government's functioning. The Yemeni government is therefore forced to protect Marib at all costs.
Third, the humanitarian crises surrounding Marib. Since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in 2014, Marib has been a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens. The 140 temporary camps surrounding the city had been pivotal in sustaining the displaced Yemenis, but recently, these camps have faced Houthi hostility and an acute water and food shortage. Sadly, the escalation of violence around Marib has been so intense that it has displaced 13,600 of the city's own citizens, making them vulnerable to the ongoing violence, pandemic, and water shortages.
A quick victory in Marib is not possible for either side. Houthi forces will have a hard time advancing to the city now due to the pushback from Yemeni forces and the mountainous terrain surrounding them. The Yemeni government, on the other hand, unable to handle the rebels and the ongoing humanitarian crises at the same time would have to try and initiate a ceasefire immediately. In the end, no matter which side wins or loses, Yemeni citizens have been bearing the brunt of this war, with more than 80% of them in need of immediate aid.