Middle East

Yemen rebels set sight on city of Marib

Houthi rebels reportedly completed their control of al-Abdiyah district in oil-rich Marib province

Mohammed Alragawi   | 21.10.2021
Yemen rebels set sight on city of Marib


Despite growing calls for them to halt their military offensive, Houthi rebels in Yemen have pushed ahead with the onslaught to seize the al-Abdiyah district in the central Marib province.

The Houthis argue that they are fighting al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS militants in Marib, one of the most important strongholds of the legitimate government and home to the headquarters of Yemen’s Defense Ministry.

On Saturday, the US Department of State described the Houthi escalation in Marbi as a “flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians”.

“The Houthis are obstructing the movement of people and humanitarian aid, preventing essential services from reaching the 35,000 residents of Abdiyah. Their actions add to an already dire humanitarian situation and have caused even more Yemenis to become internally displaced,” it said in a statement.

The US urged the Houthis to “immediately permit safe passage for civilians, life-saving aid, and the wounded,” a call quickly rejected by their spokesman.

The US call “was a proof of the link between the US and al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS militants, who were defeated in al-Abdiyah,” rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam tweeted.

"The shouts of the Americans are getting louder as we take on the positions of al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS in Marib," he said.


Nadwa Dawsari, a Yemeni Non-Resident scholar at Middle East Institute, said the main goal of the Houthi rebels is to take complete control of Yemen.

“There is no reason for them to stop as long as they are winning on all fronts and there is no one to stop them,” Dawsari told Anadolu Agency.

“The calls of the international community have no effect because they lack pressuring tools on the Houthis, and the Houthis know that these calls are just hollow and useless,” she said.

Nasser Altawil, a Yemeni lecturer at Sanaa University, said the Iran-backed rebels do not take international warnings into account, because they know that the international community is “not serious”, considering their previous experience with similar warnings for years.

“The Houthis are utilizing the American warnings for their local propaganda telling the Yemeni people that the Americans are fighting in Marib, and they (Houthis) are defending their land against foreigners,” he said.

Marib city

In the past few days, the Saudi-led coalition said hundreds of rebels were killed in airstrikes on rebel positions in the al-Abdiyah district.

But Dawsari argues that any intervention through air attacks only does not have any effect on the battlefields.
For any intervention to succeed, “80% of the military operations must come from the ground, assisted by another 20% of airstrikes,” she said.

Dawsari believes that the Houthis will continue to advance if the pro-government forces remain to be on the defensive only.

“The logical option now for the government forces is to change their field commanders, provide the army with weapons and choose new competent military leaders to wage a counter-battle to keep the Houthis away from Marib,” she said.

However, this is “unlikely to happen” given that al-Abdiyah remained under rebel siege for about a month, but the government “did not make any move to liberate it,” Dawsari noted.

On Sunday, a Yemeni military source told Anadolu Agency that the Houthis completed their control of the al-Abdiyah district following a fierce fight with government forces and allied tribesmen.

Altawil believes that “it is over for al-Abdiyah battle” as the Houthis entered the center of the district days ago.

“Their eyes are now on Marib city as the main stronghold of the internationally recognized government,” he said.

Altawil suggested that the Houthis may not advance further in the area, at least in the short-term period. Advancing towards Marib city would be “so hard” for the Houthis, he said, as the rebels are expecting a stronger resistance from government forces, tribesmen, and the local residents too.

Dawsari says that if the legitimate government does not make a move, the Houthis will surely continue to advance, and the government’s legitimacy may gradually fade away, and Yemen as a whole may fall too.

“If the Houthis continue to advance, they will impose their authority by force, then there will be no option for negotiation over Marib,” she warned.

Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthi rebels captured much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

A Saudi-led coalition aimed at reinstating the Yemeni government has worsened the situation and caused one of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crises, with 233,000 people killed, nearly 80% or about 30 million needing humanitarian assistance and protection, and more than 13 million in danger of starvation, according to UN estimates.

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