After fighting for more than a month on both sides of the Yemeni-Saudi border, the Houthis have switched from guerilla tactics against Yemeni armed forces to coordinated military strategic warfare. The conflict has thus taken a dangerous turn.
This week too, the Saudi king Abdullah announced that the families of soldiers who had fallen in combat against the Yemeni invaders would be compensated.
Jordan's King Abdullah went to great lengths to hide from the public eye the rows of coffins returning home to Amman from the Royal Jordanian Special Forces Brigade's battles of less than a week in Jebel Dukhan which straddles the Saudi-Yemeni border. The Jordanian monarch had responded last week to the Saudi king's appeal for troops to help dislodge the Yemeni Houthi intruders from mountain positions at Jebel Dukhan. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 422 of Nov. 20.)
The Yemeni rebels this week surged out of the border region enclosed by the Jizan province of southern Saudi Arabia and the Saada region of northern Yemen and spread out to seize key points along the 1,500 m long border, our military sources report.
They have achieved this by dividing their 15,000-strong force up into three columns.
Unit A held onto the Jebal Dukhan and Jebel Rumayah pockets, which are split between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and expanded its control of the Yemeni Saada province.
Unit B was the first Houthi force, numbering some 2,000 fighters, to form up into a regular military armored column, which headed out from Saada to the Red Sea, while seizing en route large swathes of desolate borderland between the two countries. Most of their armed vehicles and the cannon and heavy machine guns mounted on them were taken booty from the Yemeni and Saudi armies.
Saudis caught by surprise
Yemeni president Abdullah Salah is too hard-pressed on three other fronts to detach strength for halting the Houthi armored column advancing through the barren wastelands of the northern border; his army is fighting those rebels in Saada, defending Sanaa, his capital in the center, and fending off the “Yemeni Engine” militia fighting in the southern port of Aden to re-partition the country into northern and southern states.
The Saudi military command under General Khaled bin Sultan was stunned by the Houthis' rapid reorganization. The oil kingdom is also short of the manpower for defending its long southern border against Yemeni rebel encroachments. All they could do this week was to pummel the rebels with artillery barrages and strafe their armored column from the air.
When we closed this issue, neither tactic had succeeded in halting the Yemeni insurgents' advance.
Their commanders, it now transpires, anticipated the Saudi reaction and therefore formed
Unit C, of small, rapid raiding parties of 20-30 men each, riding jeeps and military ATVs, also captured from Saudi forces.
Those raiding parties had reached the northern Yemeni Red Sea port of Midi by Sunday, Nov. 22, our military sources report. They were only prevented from entering this small fishing port on the Saudi-Yemen border by a heavy bombardment from a Saudi warship cruising in the Red Sea out of its home port of Jeddah.
Yemeni insurgents converge on their first port
By Thursday, Nov. 26, however, the vanguard of the Houthis armored Unit B was linking up with the raiders of Unit C camped outside Midi. They were getting set to seize the port with the battle cry of “Eid al Fitr and Ramadan in Midi”. This showed they had set themselves the goal of capturing the small port by the middle of next week, when the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice ends.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report that success would constitute the Houthi's biggest victory in their on-and-off five-year insurrection against the Yemeni government. With Midi in their hands, they will have beaten the Saudi sea blockade on Yemen ports and won an outlet to the sea, through which they can take regular military supplies coming in from Eritrea and Sudan on the opposite Red Sea shore. The Iranian agents scattered through the ports and dozens of tiny islands off the coasts of the two African countries will be able to arrange arms shipments and deliver them at the rebel-held port.
Very little is known about the personal makeup of the Yemeni rebel Houthis and their commanders. But the course of the conflict betrays the hand of professional military strategists who are planning and executing rebel operations with far greater skill than the Saudi, Yemeni and Jordanian generals.