Yemen army troops briefly capture major city in Abyan

Yemeni armed members of a local armed resistance group, known as a Popular Committee (PC), supporting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, arrive on March 23, 2015 from the city of Abyan in Aden. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Yemen army troops briefly capture major city in Abyan

  • Pro-government figures posted images on social media of captured forces and military equipment abandoned by separatists

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting broke out on Sunday between government forces and separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) troops in Yemen’s southern Abyan province after loyalists attacked a major city there, local media reports and residents said.

Army troops and allied tribesmen briefly recaptured Ja’ar town after a brief and abrupt attack on separatists who retreated to neighboring areas under their control. Residents told Arab News that separatists pushed loyalists out of Ja’ar three hours later after regrouping and getting reinforcements from Abyan’s capital.

“Government forces entered the town at nearly 11 a.m. and subsequently set up checkpoints before being forced into retreating after a counterattack by STC troops,” a resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

Clashes have reportedly killed several combatants and civilians. Pro-government figures posted images on social media of captured forces and military equipment abandoned by separatists. STC media broadcast footage of military vehicles seized from government forces after the clashes.

The latest circle of violence in southern Yemen began in April, when the STC announced self-rule in Aden and other southern provinces and vowed to block the return of the internationally-recognized government to Aden, prompting the government into ordering its forces to push toward Aden to expel the separatists.

Separatists managed to fight back despite the relentless attacks.

In the north of the country Yemen’s defense ministry said on Sunday that army troops and allied tribesmen had liberated a number of mountainous locations in Sanaa’s Nehim district following heavy clashes with the Iran-backed Houthis.

The Armed Forces Media Center reported that government forces, backed by air support from Saudi-led coalition warplanes, pushed Houthis out of several “strategic” locations in Najed Al-Ateq in Nehim, east of Sanaa.

Brig. Mohammed Mashali, an army commander in Nehim, was quoted as saying that government forces liberated 11 km in Nehim after killing and injuring dozens of Houthis, adding that army troops seized three vehicles, weapons and ammunition after the clashes.

Coalition warplanes targeted Houthi gatherings and reinforcements, destroying eight military vehicles on their way to the battlefield in Nehim, the Yemeni commander said.

Government forces have escalated attacks on Houthis in Nehim to recapture strategic areas that have fallen to the militia in the last couple of months. Fighting in Yemen has intensified since early this year, despite many calls from local health workers for a humanitarian truce to allow them to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Coronavirus deaths in government-controlled areas have topped 111, amid a severe shortage of testing kits at local laboratories.

The Aden-based national coronavirus committee on Saturday recorded 13 new COVID-19 cases in Aden, Taiz, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramout, Marib, Mahra, Dhale and Shabwa, bringing the total number to confirmed cases to 482, including 23 recoveries.

Laboratories in the province of Hadramout have run out of testing kits since Wednesday, when heavy rains destroyed the main road that links the provincial capital with Aden, disrupting the arrival of testing kits.

“We could not transport the province’s shipment of PRC machine testing kits from Aden due to floods,” a local government official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News. “We alternatively use rapid tests for diagnosing coronavirus cases.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”