Sanaa: A Saudi-led coalition faces a hard challenge to seize Yemen’s main seaport, riding high over its successful capture of Hodeidah airport from the Iran-aligned Houthis, the ultimate prize in the biggest offensive of the war the spirits among the coalition is high, Reuters reported.
Alliance leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a swift operation to take over the air and sea ports, without entering the city centre, to minimise civilian casualties and maintain the flow of essential goods.
The alliance of Arab states believes that by capturing the port of Hodeidah, the only sea port in Houthi hands, it can bring to its knees the Iran-aligned movement that controls the capital and most of Yemen’s populated areas.
The United Nations fears heavy fighting will worsen what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation. For most Yemenis, the port of Hodeidah is the main lifeline.
If there is no breakthrough in UN efforts to reach a political deal, the coalition has two direct paths to the port: from the airport via residential areas where urban warfare would neutralise their air supremacy, or a sea landing that would open them to Houthi missiles and mines.
“So far, judging from the fight for the airport, it looks like the Houthis will put up quite a fight,” said Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“The coalition is likely to aim to avoid urban areas to the greatest extent possible, perhaps opting to cut off roads to trap Houthi fighters and prevent them from sending in supplies and reinforcements.” Yemeni anti-Houthi troops led by UAE forces and supported by warplanes seized control of the airport on Wednesday, in what a senior Emirati official was quoted as saying to Reuters, a “military and psychological blow” to the Houthis. They are now consolidating their hold by pounding Houthi fortifications nearby.
The Houthis hold well-fortified position in the Red Sea city to protect the key supply line to the core northern territory they control, including the capital, Sanaa.
Beyond the airport in poor neighbourhoods like al-Rabsa and Ghalil, Houthi snipers and landmines lie in wait. Armed mostly with AK-47 assault rifles, the Houthis have gained valuable experience in a series of guerrilla wars.
This gives them an advantage in street-to street combat if fighting extends to the densely populated areas of Hodeidah, a city home to around 600,000 people.