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Saudi Arabia, Gulf Allies Launch Military Operation In Yemen As Civil War Ignites Regional Firestorm

Saudi Arabia ArmySaudi Arabian forces, joined by nine other Gulf Arab allies, have launched a military operation in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. said.

According to Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, the military operation in Yemen started at 7 p.m. EST (11 p.m. GMT) on Wednesday night.

Adel al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia is acting to “defend the legitimate government” of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who was toppled after the Houthi militia seized control of the Yemeni capital of Sana last September.

“This is a very dangerous situation and we must do everything we can to protect the people of Yemen and protect the legitimate government of Yemen,” al-Jubeir said.

The military operation started with airstrikes, but will also involve “other military assets,” al-Jubeir said.  The U.S. is not participating in the operation, the envoy stressed.

A U.S. official told Reuters that the United States was providing support to Saudi Arabia as it carries out its operation, but did not provide any details.

Saudi Arabia plans to involve 100 fighter jets and 150,000 servicemen in the coalition military operation launched against Houthi militia in Yemen, Al Arabiya reports.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE (United Arab Emirates), as well as Jordan, are also ready to provide aircraft for the military operation, Al Arabiya reports, adding that Jordan is also willing to take part in ground operations in Yemen, along with Egypt, Pakistan, and Sudan.

Al Arabiya reported that warplanes of the Royal Saudi Air Force were bombing positions of Yemen’s Houthi militia, targeting their air defenses.

Al-Jubair told Al Jazeera that Houthi fighters are in control of Yemeni’s ballistic and heavy weaponry and could be taking over the country’s air force. Hadi’s government officials had been calling on Gulf nations to impose a no-fly zone over Yemen.

However, the Saudi-led coalition has declared Yemeni airspace a “restricted zone.” Ships in the region have also been urged not to approach Yemen’s ports due to the ongoing military operation.

Reports from the ground indicate that Saudi forces have bombed an office that belonged to Houthi rebels in Sanaa’s Jiraf area, causing “many casualties”. Local residents say bombs from warplanes have completely destroyed the airport in Sanaa — which is now without power — and have caused the presidential complex in Sanaa to ignite in flames.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait later issued a joint statement saying that they “decided to repel Houthi militias, Al-Qaeda and ISIS (Islamic State) in the country.” The Gulf states said they were responding to a “major threat” to the stability of the region, saying that their cause is to “repel Houthi aggression” in Yemen.

The Saudi Embassy in the U.S., in a series of tweets, said: “President Hadi requested immediate support – by all means necessary – including military intervention to protect Yemen and its people.”

“Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the Kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government.”

After the airstrikes concluded, the White House announced that President Barack Obama has authorized logistical and intelligence support to the operation.

“While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support,” a White House statement said.

A senior leader of the Houthi movement said on Thursday that Saudi military operation amounted to an aggression against his country and warned that it would set off a “wide war” in the region.

“The Yemeni people are a free people and they will confront the aggressors. I will remind you that the Saudi government and the Gulf governments will regret this aggression,” the senior leader said.

Rebels have announced a 20 million riyal ($100,000) reward for Hadi’s capture, Lebanon-based Al-Manar TV reported.

President Hadi had fled his complex and sought refuge in the seaport of Aden long before the operation was officially launched on Wednesday night. His current location remains undisclosed.

More from Reuters:

Houthi militia forces in Yemen backed by allied army units seized an air base on Wednesday and appeared close to capturing the southern port of Aden from defenders loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, residents said.

The United States said that Hadi, who has been holed up in Aden since fleeing the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa last month, was no longer at his residence. It offered no other details on his movements.

After taking al-Anad air base, the Houthis and their military allies, supported by heavy armor, advanced to within 20 km (12 miles) of Aden.

Soldiers at Aden’s Jabal al-Hadeed barracks fired into the air to prevent residents from entering the base and arming themselves, witnesses said, suggesting that Hadi’s control over the city was fraying.

Houthi fighters and allied military units had advanced to Dar Saad, a village a half-hour’s drive from central Aden, residents there said.

Earlier, unidentified warplanes fired missiles at the Aden neighborhood where Hadi’s compound is located, residents said. Anti-aircraft batteries opened fire on the planes.

More from The Guardian:

Yemen has edged closer to all-out civil war as Shia Houthi rebels seized a key military base in the southern port city of Aden and reports suggested that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had fled the country.

Rebels seized al-Anad airbase, which lies between Taiz – Yemen’s third-largest city, which fell under rebel control last week – and Hadi’s stronghold of Aden, in a renewed push for control of the country’s south.

More from The Washington Post:

On a broader level, Yemen represents a potential proxy battlefield for the wider regional rivalries between Shiite power Iran and the Gulf Arab states backed by Washington, which had counted on Hadi as a partner in coordinating drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Amid the widening chaos, Hadi’s whereabouts remained unclear.

Senior security officials told The Washington Post that Hadi had left his stronghold in Aden, where his government sought a foothold after being driven from the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis.

Looters soon swarmed the presidential buildings, and fighting flared on several fronts on the edge of the city, said Anis Mansour, editor of the port city’s Huna Aden newspaper.

More from Al-Jazeera:

The developments [in Aden] came just hours after a television station said Houthi fighters and their allies had seized an airbase where US troops and Europeans helped the country in its fight against al-Qaeda.

The Al-Masirah TV station reported that the Houthis had “secured” the al-Annad airbase near the town of Lahij, and claimed the base had been looted by both al-Qaeda fighters and troops loyal to Hadi.

That airbase is only 60km  away from Aden, the port city where President Abd- Rabbu Mansour Hadi had established a temporary capital.

Witnesses said they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles leaving Hadi’s palace, located at the top of a hill in Aden overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The advance of the Houthis threatens to plunge the Arab world’s poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbours. Already, Hadi has asked the UN to authorise a foreign military intervention in the country.

Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, had previously warned that his country would take “necessary measures” if the Houthis did not resolve the crisis peacefully, without elaborating further.


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