Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis

Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis
Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh said Yemeni forces had gained the upper hand against the Houthis. (Screengrab)
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Updated 30 December 2019

Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis

Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis
  • Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh, a nephew of the former president, says he wants to free people from Houthi repression
  • Saleh said his forces had killed and injured as many as 700 Houthis

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A Yemeni army general who defected from the Houthis has vowed to keep fighting the Iran-backed militant group and push them from all Yemeni territories under their control, including the capital Sanaa.

Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh, a nephew of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a military commander at the Joint Forces in Yemen’s Red Sea battlefield, said Saturday that his forces wanted to free people from repression and tyranny.

He said Yemeni forces had taken the offensive on the battlefield and managed to push back Houthi attacks with little help from the Saudi-led coalition.

“Our goal is one: Houthis. Our crystal clear goal is Sanaa, the capital of Yemen,” he said, addressing dozens of newly trained forces at a military base in Yemen’s Red Sea Mocha town. 

Saleh added that Yemeni forces had gained the upper hand in the battlefield in the port city of Hodeidah and had pushed back attempts to make territorial gains there and in Taiz.

“They say Houthis would come back to Aden if the warplanes stopped. We have been fighting here for a year and a half with no air, artillery or reconnaissance support. We are fighting them face to face with guns,” he told them.

Saleh was, until late 2017, the commander of his uncle’s special guards. Ali Abdullah Saleh switched sides in Dec. 2017 and led a military uprising against the Houthis, backing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen. 

When the Houthis killed him a number of his military supporters, including his nephew, deserted Houthi-controlled areas and regrouped at a military base established with the help of the coalition. 

Using his uncle’s decades-long tribal, military and social connections, Saleh convinced many figures to defect and join his military brigades.

The Arab coalition brought together three major military divisions on the Red Sea under joint military command.

Saleh said his forces had killed and injured as many as 700 Houthis, as rebels sought to break government forces’ defenses in Hodeidah.

“They have suffered heavy defeats,” he said, urging his soldiers and supporters to keep their morale high and get ready for major battles. “We renew our call to all Yemenis to come together. They are our enemy and the enemy of all Yemenis. They caused curses and wars.”

Anti-Houthi forces have made major breakthroughs in the war by pushing deeply into Houthi-controlled areas in Hodeidah and Taiz since Saleh’s defection and, in June 2018, reached the outskirts of Hodeidah that host the country’s biggest seaport. 

The offensive pushed the Houthis into agreeing to withdraw from Hodeidah’s major seaports under a UN-brokered deal signed in Dec. 2018. 

The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen in March 2015 tilted the balance of the war in favor of forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, enabling loyalists to seize control of 80 percent of Yemen.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 7 min 54 sec ago

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”