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“Civilians Trapped”: Major Assault On Yemen Port Begins; Saudi Ship Attacked

06/13/2018

The biggest and potentially most catastrophic battle in terms of civilian casualties has begun in the three-year war between the Saudi coalition and Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels. The assault began early Wednesday after days of the United Nations warning against the operationwhich also involves the UAE and United States as leading the campaign on the Houthi held port city of Al Hudaydah.

Prior Reuters photo of smoke rising from a warehouse of the World Food Program as fire engulfed it in Hudaydah, Yemen, March 31, 2018.

Reuters reports the following breaking updates:

  • “concentrated and intense” bombing near the port itself.
  • 30 air strikes hit the city within half an hour.
  • Houthis say they hit a coalition barge
  • Port is main route to feed 8.4 million on verge of famine
  • “Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes.”
  • Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeidah in operation “Golden Victory”.
  • Ground battles raged near Hodeidah airport and al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6 miles) south of the city

Though Saudi and coalition authorities have long imposed a media blackout on Yemen which has resulted in little on the ground footage of the war, some early footage of the ground assault has emerged on pro-Saudi social media:

الحديدة مباشر@HdeidahMubasher

عاجل | فيديو مباشر: بإسناد القوات المسلحة الإماراتية القوات المشتركة تقترب من مطار الحديدة

As we reported earlier this week, the UN and Red Cross evacuated all personnel days before the assault on the major Yemeni port through which 80% of all humanitarian aid to the war-torn country flows.

The city of half a million people is one of the sole lifelines of support from the outside world, thus analysts are predicting this to be a catastrophe for the country’s civilian population in a war which The New York Times notes is already “classified as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster with “more than 75 percent of the population… dependent on food aid”.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has also suspended operations in parts of the country after a Saudi coalition air raid on a cholera treatment center it supports. Cholera has made a comeback and ravaged the population in the midst of the grinding war and is expected to explode further now that Al Hudaydah port is inaccessible to aid and medical groups.

UN Geneva
@UNGeneva

As many as 250,000 people “may lose everything” in case of a military attack on ‘s key port city Hodeidah, as the country’s humanitarian crisis remains the worst in the world. Watch @UNOCHA‘s @JensLaerke brief press in Geneva today.

The UN has attempted negotiations with both sides to cede temporary humanitarian control over the vital port.

MSF Yemen
@msf_yemen

The Saudi-US military coalition currently besieging the country through airstrikes and sea blockade claims Al Hudaydah is a key arms smuggling point through which Iran supplies the Shia Houthis, including sophisticated ballistic missiles which have hit locations inside Saudi Arabia within the past year

The US has tried to present itself as trying to stave off humanitarian catastrophe in Al Hudaydah, yet as NPR’s Steve Inskeep confirmed while reporting from Yemen earlier this year the US military “has provided targeting information, equipment and aircraft refueling to the Saudi air campaign, which has been widely criticized for being indiscriminate and killing civilians in places like hospitals, funerals and homes.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week framed the US role as desiring “to address their security concerns [Saudis, UAE, and pro-Saudi Yemeni government in exile] while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and lifesaving commercial imports,” according to a statement.

Yet the Wall Street Journal has characterized the US role in the new operation as actually“deepening” as US intelligence will provide “information to fine-tune the list of targets”. So Pompeo’s mention of “security concerns” obviously constitute a green light

While this “deepening” role is supposedly to keep the UAE and Saudis on good behavior, its really a propaganda move to give the American role a fig leaf of “humanitarian” motives.

As Moon of Alabama blog noted in the lead-up to Wednesday’s assault on Hudaydah port:

The genocide in Yemen is going to start tomorrow. Eight million are already on the brink of starvation. Eighteen out of twenty-six million Yemenis live in the mountainous heartlands (green) which are under control of the Houthi and their allies. They are surrounded by Saudi and U.A.E. forces and their mercenaries. There is little agriculture. The only supply line from the outside world will soon be cut off. The people will starve.

UAE forces are especially reported to be taking a lead role in operations. As we detailed last year, the Saudi coalition has largely relied for its ground operations on UAE officers commanding a largely mercenary forces, with most of the ground troops coming from Sudan

Indeed many of the file photos currently featured by the NYT, AP, and others appear to confirm the heavy use of mercenary ground forces from north Africa:

NYT Opinion
@nytopinion

Yemen, devastated by a war that has killed 10,000 people, needs an internationally-backed peace process not a major new attack by U.S.-backed Arab allies on the port of Hudaydah, a vital entry point for humanitarian aid https://nyti.ms/2sSUzs9 

Sudanese forces fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen pressed toward Al Hudaydah on Tuesday.

Opinion | On the Brink of Disaster in Yemen

A Saudi attack on the port of Al Hudaydah could be a lifeline for humanitarian aid the country depends on.

nytimes.com

Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, claims the Houthis have attacked multiple commercial and military shipsaccording to pro-Saudi Al-Arabiya:

The Houthi militia in Yemen have attacked commercial and military ships, including ships belonging to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US, using advanced anti-shipping systems smuggled into Yemen. 

For their part, the Houthis appear to have confirmed their ground forces launched a missile attack on a Saudi naval vessel, according to Middle East based Al Masdar news.

The ambassador further blamed Iran for militarily backing the insurgents: “The liberation of Hodeidah is critical in light of the growing threat that the Iranian backed Houthi militia poses to the maritime security of the red sea, a vital waterway through which about 15% of international commerce passes,” he said.

Because of the complete media and humanitarian blockade on the contested port city, confirmation of the rapidly unfolding events have been hard to come by.

Rebecca Kheel

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched an offensive Wednesday on a key port in Yemen held by rebels, despite international warnings such an assault could be catastrophic.

In the United States, which has supported the coalition, lawmakers in both parties issued stern warnings ahead of the offensive on Hodeida.

A bipartisan quartet of senators, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the eve of the offensive expressing “grave alarm.”

“We are concerned that pending military operations by the United Arab Emirates and its Yemeni partners will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis by interrupting delivery of humanitarian aid and damaging critical infrastructure,” the senators wrote. “We are also deeply concerned that these operations jeopardize prospects for a near-term political resolution to the conflict.”

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers also sent a letter they had been circulating earlier in the week that asked Mattis to “use all available means to avert a catastrophic military assault.” The letter garnered 34 signatures, according to the copy publicly released Wednesday.

The Trump administration tried to dissuade the coalition from launching the offensive, with Pompeo saying in a statement Monday that he “made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports.”

Having failed to stop the UAE from acting, the U.S. military has helped Gulf allies develop a list of targets that should be off-limits, according to several reports citing unnamed U.S. officials.

Hodeida is controlled by Houthi rebels who are fighting the Saudi-led coalition, and the coalition believes the port has been key to the rebels smuggling in arms.

But humanitarian groups and experts have warned that an offensive on Hodeida, through which 80 percent of Yemen’s aid comes, could devastate the already war-ravaged country. The United Nations said Friday the worst-case scenario is 250,000 civilians killed in the assault.

Yemen’s exiled government said in a statement that it “has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida,” according to The Associated Press. “Liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias.”

US to Deepen Military Role in Yemen War, Joining Hodeidah Attack

Officials claim US involvement will reduce civilian deaths

After a handful of statements last week suggesting the US was opposing the planned attack on the vital Yemeni aid port of Hodeidah, officials are now indicating that the US has reversed again, and will actually be participating in the attack.

Pentagon officials say they intend to provide growing amounts of military intelligence, including target lists, for the Saudi-led invasion force in Yemen. They argue that this is going to ultimately reduce the civilian death toll of the attack on the port.

Yet US targeting aid in the past has done little to keep the Saudi strikes on Yemen from regularly killing large numbers of civilians. Even beyond this, the fall of Hodeidah threatens to spark a famine that would kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of others.

Many in Congress are pushing for the US to use “all available means” to stop the attack on the port. Some analysts are speculating this move by the Pentagon suggests they just don’t have the leverage to do anything to stop the attack. Yet this wouldn’t explain why they are deciding to join the catastrophic attack, deepening US involvement in a humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

US-Backed Coalition Bombs Yemen’s New Cholera Treatment Center, After Unleashing World’s Largest Outbreak

João Martins, who directs MSF’s work in Yemen, said the airstrike “shows complete disrespect for medical facilities and patients.”

“Whether intentional or a result of negligence, it is totally unacceptable,” he said. “The compound was clearly marked as a health facility and its coordinates were shared with the SELC (Saudi and Emirati-led coalition).”

“With only half of health facilities in Yemen fully functional, nearly 10 million people in acute need, and an anticipated outbreak of cholera, the CTC (cholera treatment center) had been built to save lives,” Martins added.

No civilians were killed in this attack.

Saudi Arabia has in the past bombed numerous hospitals and other medical facilities in Yemen run by MSF, killing dozens of civilians. Some of these attacks have involved “double-tap strikes,” in which the coalition has returned minutes later to bomb first responders.

The military coalition has bombed Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to push the rebel Houthi movement, which is formally known as Ansar Allah, out of power.

Although the coalition is formally led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it enjoys significant assistance from the U.S. and U.K. Both countries have done hundreds of billions of dollars in arms deals with the Gulf regimes. Moreover, U.S. planes refuel Saudi jets, and American and British military officials have even physically been in the operation room for Saudi bombing.

Thousands of civilians have been killed by Saudi air strikes, which have devastated Yemen’s civilian infrastructure.

Due to the war, the medical system has effectively collapsed. Fewer than half the health facilitates in the majority of Yemen’s governorates are operational, and thousands of medical workers have gone more than a year without payment.

The United Nations World Health Organization reported in December that the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen had reached a staggering 1 million, and this staggering figure has increased since then.

Despite this unparalleled humanitarian crisis, the UAE is pushing to accelerate the war in Yemen’s southwest. The U.S.-backed coalition is moving to attack the port city of Hodeida, which the U.N. has warned could lead to a massive catastrophe, in which millions of civilians starve.