Saudi Arabia denies sending troops into Aden

Conflicting reports of coalition force entering Yemeni city to defend airport

A member of  the Popular Resistance Committees loyal to Yemen’s fugitive president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi keeps position in the city of Taiz.  Photograph: Abdel Rahman Abdallah/AFP/Getty Images

A member of the Popular Resistance Committees loyal to Yemen’s fugitive president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi keeps position in the city of Taiz. Photograph: Abdel Rahman Abdallah/AFP/Getty Images

 

The situation in Yemen’s besieged port city of Aden was confused yesterday after it was reported and then denied that Saudi-commanded ground troops had been deployed to support pro-government militias fighting rebels.

“A limited coalition force entered Aden and another force is on its way,” stated an unnamed official early in the day. The soldiers were said to number 40 to 50 Saudis and Emiratis of Yemeni origin. A large proportion of the Saudi army is comprised of such recruits.

Ali Ahmadi, a senior member of the popular committees, a local militia supporting exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, said initially that the force would help defend the international airport against Shia Houthis and army units loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. He later announced that they were not “Arab special forces” deployed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Coalition spokesman Ahmad al-Asiri attempted to deny the entry of such forces by saying no major ground operation had been launched and “no foreign forces” had been dispatched to Aden. But his words did not contradict earlier reports, as the troops were said to be of Yemeni background.

Battle-hardened Houthis

al-Ghad

The issue of ground forces is highly sensitive for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners as their governments are loath to provide “boots on the ground” to fight battle-hardened Houthis who defeated Saudi troops in a 2009 engagement.

Last month Saudi Arabia appealed to Islamabad for ground troops but Pakistan’s parliament ruled out deployment.

On Saturday, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi discussed Yemen with Saudi leaders during a short visit to the kingdom. Egypt, which has received billions of dollars in Saudi aid, could be asked to provide troops.

At the end of March, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition, mainly of parts of the air forces of five of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council, to wage an air war against the Houthis and their allies, battering the capital, Sanaa, the central city of Taiz, Aden and other areas.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the Saudis have been using US-made cluster bombs in the air campaign and have struck targets near populated areas. Cluster munitions are banned by a treaty adopted in Dublin in 2008 and signed by 116 countries but not by Saudi Arabia, its coalition partners or the US.

Cluster bombs

Steve Goose

Cluster bombs release small bomblets which are scattered over a wide area and can remain unexploded for years until encountered by civilians.

The World Health Organisation has reported that the Yemen fighting has killed 1,244 people, injured 5,044, and affected 7.5 million. A summit of Gulf rulers is to meet tomorrow to discuss the Yemen conflict and the war against Islamic State.