The al Houthi Victory in Amran
The latest outbreak of fighting in Yemen could jeopardize the country’s continued existence as a unified state. On July 8, the Shi’ite al Houthi tribal movement, reportedly armed and supported by Iran, solidified its control of the strategic city of Amran, only 40 km north of the capital, Sana’a. The seizure of a city so close to the capital is a significant victory for the movement and undermines the integrity of the Yemeni state. The seizure also puts America’s only strategy for dealing with one of the most aggressive al Qaeda affiliates in the region, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), at serious risk of failure.
Al Houthi militants attacked the Yemeni 310th Armored Brigade and local tribal militias throughout the month of June 2014 in order to position themselves near Amran city. Strategic for several reasons, Amran is the tribal stronghold of the al Houthis’ political rivals, the powerful al Ahmar family and the ruling Sunni al Islah (Reform) Party. The al Houthis managed to gain control of positions directly outside of Amran city by the end of June.
The al Houthis quickly began their push into the center of Amran, and the Yemeni Air Force responded the same day by pounding al Houthi positions in and around the city, leading to one of the deadliest clashes between the two sides this year. The militants surged a second time and took complete control of Amran city on July 8. The rebel tribe cemented its control over the city by seizing government and security facilities as well as the base of the 310th Armored Brigade; Yemeni Special Security Forces surrendered their weapons by the end of the day.
At the time of writing, the al Houthis still control Amran city, while the Yemeni government is scrambling to find a solution. Reports indicate that the al Houthis killed the commander of the 310th Armored Brigade, Hamid al Qushaybi, a long-standing enemy. If true, Al Qushaybi’s death would be a significant victory and could deepen the al Houthis’ resolve to fight. In turn, the al Ahmar family, Islah party, and the military will put enormous pressure on Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to take a strong military stance against the militants.
While the Houthi battle against the state may appear a sideshow to many, the expansion of conflict with the Houthi to an area directly north of Yemen’s capital will likely draw on Yemen’s limited military, now the only significant forces fighting our shared enemy AQAP. AQAP will take advantage of any ensuing security vacuum, liberating al Qaeda’s most powerful branch to expand, take territory, and plot attacks against the U.S. In other words, another blow to what President Barack Obama has labeled a model in the global war against al Qaeda.