Houthis stuck in Marib military quagmire, experts say

Houthis stuck in Marib military quagmire, experts say
More than a month since the offensive began, the Houthis have lost hundreds of fighters and failed to make major advances toward the city of Marib. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2021

Houthis stuck in Marib military quagmire, experts say

Houthis stuck in Marib military quagmire, experts say
  • Rebels could use stalemate as leverage for behind-the-scenes negotiations in Yemen

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis find themselves embroiled in a costly military quagmire in Yemen’s central province of Marib as their month-long offensive has stalled and they have not been able to recapture the province's capital.

The military deadlock has prompted the rebels into shifting their goal from taking Marib city to potentially using the offensive as a bargaining chip in future peace talks, Yemeni experts say.

“While the Houthis initially had momentum in their offensive on Marib, the battle has descended into a familiar stalemate,” Samuel Ramani, an international relations researcher at Oxford University, told Arab News.

“On March 14, reports from the Yemeni government suggested that the Houthis were losing ground and that the government forces were turning the tide.”

Earlier last month, thousands of Houthi fighters, including elite forces, rolled into Marib province from three directions: Sana’a, Jouf and Al-Bayda. The rebels’ plan was to capture Marib, its oil and gas fields and expel the Yemeni government from its last bastion in the northern part of the country.

More than a month since the offensive began, the Houthis have lost hundreds of fighters and failed to make major advances toward the city of Marib, located about 75 miles east of Yemen's capital Sana'a.

“Houthis stumbled in Marib. Their offensive has been repelled,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst and a non-resident scholar at the US-based Middle East Institute told Arab News.

Yemen experts argue that the Houthis, stuck deep in a military stalemate and increased fatalities, have dropped their goal of seizing Marib and could use the offensive as leverage at behind-the-scenes negotiations.

“There's a possibility the Houthis knew the probability of taking Marib was low, especially given the power of the tribes and the terrain, which exposes them to Saudi airstrikes,” Katherine Zimmerman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News.

“They may be seeking to use their new positions as a bartering chip at future negotiations.”

Despite pushing back consecutive Houthi assaults and inflicting heavy losses on them, the Yemeni government troops could not completely flush out the rebels from the city and surrounding areas.

The rebels are still close and pose a threat to the city, experts say.

“They are still sending reinforcements. While their offensive was stalled by the tribes and government forces, they are still a threat to Marib,” Al-Dawsari said.

The city’s geographical and societal natures, in addition to massive military support from the Arab coalition, have played roles in foiling the Houthi offensive.

The rebels’ assaults have pushed Marib’s powerful tribesmen into joining the battlefields and standing by the Yemeni army.

The province’s mountainous terrain has exposed rebel fighters to Saudi airstrikes, Zimmerman said. Experts and local government officials say that warplanes from the Arab coalition have disrupted Houthi attacks, targeting military reinforcements to the battlefields.

The coalition even published videos showing warplanes attacking Houthi military fighters, tanks and military equipment in Marib’s mountain and desert regions.

Marib’s governor, Sultan Al-Arada, said the Houthis would have successfully invaded the city if the warplanes did not take part in the fighting.

“The situation would have been different,” Al-Aradah said during an online press conference arranged by the Sana’a Center For Strategic Studies earlier this month.

Yemen experts predict three scenarios for the post-Houthi offensive on Marib: the Yemeni government forces and the Houthis plunge deeper into a military stalemate, the rebels break through and take full control of Marib, or the government forces completely push the rebels out of the Marib province.

The outcome of the offensive could decide the trajectory of the country’s political and military courses.

“If Houthis take Marib, the political process will officially collapse,” Al-Dawsari said. “Already, the rebels have demonstrated a lack of interest in political negotiations. They want an end to Saudi airstrikes and military intervention but they are not really interested in reaching a political agreement with other actors.”

But if the Houthis fail to capture Marib, they might pause the offensive and engage in talks with their opponents to buy time and regroup forces before renewing strikes.

“The unreliability of the rebels as peace partners makes it difficult to predict their response to a failed offensive in Marib,” Ramani said. “They might engage in dialogue with Saudi Arabia, perhaps facilitated by Oman, just to buy time and then escalate again.”


American jailed for betraying military sources in Iraq

American jailed for betraying military sources in Iraq
Updated 24 June 2021

American jailed for betraying military sources in Iraq

American jailed for betraying military sources in Iraq
  • Mariam Thompson, 62, had admitted transmitting the classified information to a Lebanese national connected to Hezbollah

WASHINGTON: A Pentagon translator was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison for passing the names of US informants in Iraq to a person linked to Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Mariam Thompson, 62, had admitted transmitting the classified information to a Lebanese national in hopes that it would be passed on to the group designated a terrorist organization by Washington.
“Thompson’s sentence reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardized and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues,” John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement.
According to court documents, Thompson worked as an interpreter on a foreign military base when, in 2017, she began a relationship on a video app with a man who said he was connected to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“Over time, Thompson developed a romantic interest in her co-conspirator,” the Justice Department said.
She was assigned to American special forces in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, in December 2019, when the unit initiated strikes against a pro-Iranian militia, which ended January 3, 2020 with the death of powerful Iranian General Qassim Suleimani.
Shortly after, Thompson’s contact asked for information about agents suspected of having aided the United States.
She gave him data on several American informants, including the real names of at least eight people, accessed through personnel files, and information on US military tactics.
She was arrested by federal authorities the next month, in late February 2020.


Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
Updated 24 June 2021

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
  • The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the accident
  • The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations

DUBAI: Canada’s final report on the downing of the Ukrainian plane said the decision was made by a senior Iranian official, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the fatal accident on Jan. 8, 2020.
The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations for the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 people on board.
Earlier in June, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said they refused Iran’s proposal to pay $150,000 as compensation for each victim of the PS752 plane victims.
Oleg Nikolenko said compensation to families was an important step to justice, but first the full truth behind the circumstances of the plane crash were needed.
“Only then can we talk about the compensation. The specific amount should be set with the agreement of all the governments of the states whose citizens died in the plane crash, and [should] not [be] a unilateral decision,” one of the country’s biggest TV news channels TSN quoted him.


Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
Updated 24 June 2021

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
  • Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children
  • Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city

DUBAI: Yemen’s Information Minister said Marib was “invincible” and warned that Houthis who tried to enter would be arrested, state news agency Saba New reported on Wednesday.
Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children.
“The Houthi militia are again deploying thousands of their militants, including tribesmen and children recruited from the summer radicalization centers for suicide missions at all fronts of Marib,” the report quoted him as saying.
Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has left 90 fighters killed in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.
The Ministry of Defense said dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.
Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.


Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Berlin on June 23, 2021, on the sidelines of a new round of Libya peace talks. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Berlin on June 23, 2021, on the sidelines of a new round of Libya peace talks. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
Updated 24 June 2021

Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Berlin on June 23, 2021, on the sidelines of a new round of Libya peace talks. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
  • Premier urges parliament to approve election law to allow December election to go ahead

BERLIN: Libya’s foreign minister said on Wednesday international powers had made progress at talks in Berlin on the removal of foreign fighters from the country, although a final communique from the UN-backed conference specified no concrete new measures.

Libya has had little stability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising against then-head of state Muammar Qaddafi, but a UN-led peace process brought a ceasefire last summer after fighting between rival factions paused.

Wednesday’s meeting in Berlin aimed to make progress on removing mercenaries and other foreign forces from Libya, months after the ceasefire called for their withdrawal, as well as on steps toward securing a December election.

“Hopefully within coming days mercenaries (on) both sides will be withdrawn,” Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush told a news conference following the talks.

A senior official at the US State Department said Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Libya, had reached an initial understanding to work toward a target of pulling out 300 Syrian mercenaries from each side of the conflict.

HIGHLIGHT

A US State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said he believed there was an understanding between Russia and Turkey on a step-by-step withdrawal of their fighters.

“This will not mean that everybody will take their mercenaries back overnight,” he said. The talks were also attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A second State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

“Getting at what we think is one of the key de-stabilizing elements, the presence of these foreign fighters, Syrians, Chadians, Sudanese, that is an important first step and it’s not something we had before,” the official said.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba called on Libya’s parliament to approve an election law to allow the December election to go ahead and to pass his government’s budget.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the necessary seriousness from the legislative bodies,” he said.


Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis

Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
Updated 24 June 2021

Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis

Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
  • Fistfights turn into shootings as people clash over who gets to fill their tank first at gasoline stations

BEIRUT: Violence has seeped into daily Lebanese life due to the country’s severe economic crisis and a breakdown in official security, with fights and even shootings at gas stations.

Lebanon is experiencing an economic crisis that is likely to rank as one of the world’s three worst in more than 150 years, according to the World Bank.
There are shortages of essential items such as fuel and medicine, while bread has become more expensive after the Syndicate of Bakery Owners raised prices now that government subsidies on sugar and yeast have ended.
People are queuing for hours at gas stations, and fistfights turn into shootings as people clash over who gets to fill their tank first.
People are taking their own lives or destroying their sources of income in desperation.
A 25-year-old man named Mathew hanged himself in his apartment in the Keserwan area, while a man in Baalbek tried to commit suicide in his shop because of the debts he had accumulated. Another person set fire to his bean cart in a Beirut street after receiving an order to remove it. The cart was his sole livelihood.
Living conditions have deteriorated considerably amid a political deadlock over the formation of a new government. There is a dispute between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun about who should be in the new administration and what roles they should have, among other issues.
Hariri was named to form a new government last October but has yet to succeed. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast in Beirut on Aug. 4 that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.
One activist turned his aim at the country’s authorities, tweeting: “You have turned Lebanon into a jungle and put people at the mercy of thugs at gas stations. You have humiliated people in every detail of their lives. We place the scenes of shootings at gas stations in God’s hands because we have no one in Lebanon to complain to. They are all responsible without exception.”

HIGHLIGHT

There are shortages of essential items such as fuel and medicine, while bread has become more expensive after the Syndicate of Bakery Owners raised prices now that government subsidies on sugar and yeast have ended.

A resident from Beirut’s southern suburbs said that official security was no longer enough to deal with the chaos and violence that was finding its way into everyday life. “The official security forces, which have shared the task of providing security in the southern suburbs in recent years with Hezbollah and the Amal movement, have asked those in charge of these neighborhoods to participate in protecting the security of gas stations because the official security services are unable to cover all neighborhoods,” the resident told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
Self-security was not limited to Beirut’s southern suburbs, the resident added, but extended to Beirut and other neighborhoods, including Ain El-Remmaneh and Furn El Chebbak.
Fadi Abu Shakra, a representative of the union for fuel distributors and gas stations in Lebanon, spoke about the dangers of the new development.
“Some individuals who imposed themselves as in charge of security at gas stations are using extortion,” he told Arab News. “The riots and attacks in front of the stations are no longer bearable. The owners of over 140 gas stations refused to receive gasoline from the companies because they were exposed to extortion and beatings, and could not protect themselves.”
He called on the security services to protect the gas stations which, he said, were “only trying to do their jobs.”
But Brig. Gen. Anwar Yahya, a former judicial police chief, said that the Internal Security Forces were not responsible for “ensuring public order” in front of gas stations. “This falls within the responsibilities of municipalities, and there is a law that stipulates this,” he told Arab News. “But the municipalities are also suffering under low budgets. Some parties are involved in certain municipalities and they can assist them in such matters. However, when such individuals have a greater influence than the official security forces, the state’s stature diminishes.”
The economic crisis had affected the Lebanese armed forces, he added, and the international community’s cooperation to support them was “an expression of its fear” about the military “crumbling” under the pressure of events in Lebanon.
Security services have been submitting daily reports on their pursuit of people smuggling subsidized materials to Syria and on those being arrested for harming social and food security.
Yahya, who spent 39 years in the security field, said people expected the state agencies to provide protection and that the army remained the “ultimate salvation.”
“The most important thing is to speed up the formation of a government because people are hungry,” he added.
He stressed that, until the time came when there was a new government, an individual’s primary role was maintaining self-protection. “Among the preventive measures that citizens can take are locking doors and windows, applying the principles of neighborhood security, and informing the police of every emergency.”