ALEXANDRIA: Fighting on major battlefields outside Yemen’s central city of Marib died down on Thursday as Iran-backed Houthis halted their assaults after suffering heavy casualties and losing military equipment, two local military officials told Arab News.
It follows Yemen’s appeal to the US to increase military support and training for the country’s coast guard so it can rein in the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis.
Over the past five days, “unprecedented” fighting between the Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out in several contested areas outside Marib. The rebels renewed attacks on government forces in a bid to make gains on the ground that would put them closer to the strategic city.
Yemeni army officials said dozens of rebel forces and government troops were killed in the fighting as the Houthis also suffered heavy casualties. The rebels were forced to retreat after facing stiff resistance and heavy aerial bombardment from Arab coalition warplanes.
“There is a cautious calm on the battlefields (on Thursday) after the Houthi suffered heavy losses during their last attack,” an army military official said on the condition of anonymity.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in fighting and missile strikes in the Marib province since February when the Houthis resumed a major offensive to seize control of the government’s last bastion in northern Yemen.
Another military official said the Yemeni army received information on Thursday that the Houthis were regrouping outside Marib and have called for military reinforcements from Sanaa and other areas in northern Yemen.
“The national army is aware of regrouping of fighters and will defeat them,” the official said, preferring anonymity.
Yemen has demanded the US increase its military support to the coast guard forces to help disrupt the flow of Iranian weapons and experts to the Houthis that fueled the latest conflict.
On Wednesday, Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar met with Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, to discuss the fighting. Al-Ahmar urged the US to train, arm, and share intelligence with the Yemeni Coast Guard, which is trying to thwart a smuggling surge of weapons from Iran to the Houthis through the country’s long coastline.
Al-Ahmar thanked the American and the Arab coalition navies for seizing several arms shipments from Iran to the Houthis, adding that his country’s coast guard would not be able to confront the smuggling of arms and drugs on their own, the official news agency SABA reported.
“The vice president stresses the importance of the US and international support for efforts to combat terrorism and smuggling in our country and the region,” SABA said.
“Yemen looks forward to more support and training for the coast guard forces so they can play a bigger role in combating Iranian arms smuggling and limiting activities threatening maritime security.”
The smuggling of weapons, drugs, and migrants has increased since early 2015 when the Yemeni maritime forces crumbled as the Houthis expanded rapidly across the country.
Shortly after intervening militarily in Yemen, in support of the internationally recognized government in March 2015, the Arab coalition regrouped the forces at military bases inside and outside of Yemen. After the forces received military training, they were deployed across the country’s coastline on the Red Sea and Arab Sea.