The al Houthi Victory in Amran

July 9, 2014

Army soldiers are seen on a tank positioned outside Amran city, the capital of Amran province, north of Sanaa, amid tension with militants of the Shi'ite Houthi group, April 13, 2014. Fighters loyal to the Shi'ite tribe, who have repeatedly fought government forces since 2004, are trying to tighten their grip on the north as Yemen moves towards a federal system that gives more power to regional authorities. (Reuters)

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.[1] 

The al Houthis quickly began their push into the center of Amran[2],  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.[3] The militants surged a second time and took complete control of Amran city on July 8.[4] 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.[5]

At the time of writing, the al Houthis still control Amran city, while the Yemeni government is scrambling to find a solution.[6] Reports indicate that the al Houthis killed the commander of the 310th Armored Brigade, Hamid al Qushaybi, a long-standing enemy.[7] 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.[8]

 

 
[1] Alexis Knutsen, “Yemen’s Counter-Terrorism Quandary,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, June 26, 2014. Available: http://www.criticalthreats.org/yemen/knutsen-houthi-counterterrorism-quandary-june-26-2014
[2] Amal al Yarisi, “Ceasefire Committee Resumes Negotiations in Amran and Hamdan,” Yemen Times, July 3, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://www.yementimes.com/en/1795/news/4050/Ceasefire-committee-resumes-negotiations-in-Amran-and-Hamdan.htm
“Al Houthis Refuse for Third Time to Hand over Checkpoints they Control in Hamdan to Presidential Committee,” al Masdar July 1, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/59541
[3] “Scores killed as Yemeni Army, Rebels Battle North of Sana’a,” Gulf News, July 6, 2014. Available: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/scores-killed-as-yemeni-army-rebels-battle-north-of-sana-a-1.1356396
[4] “Al Houthi Blow up Islah Headquarters in Amran and Houses of Islah Leaders,” al Masdar, July 8, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/59781
[5] “Details of al Houthi Control over Amran,” Barakish, July 8, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://www.barakish.net/news.aspx?cat=12&sub=23&id=129921
“Battles inside and around Amran and al Jamimah an al Mahashesh and Sources Say Leaders of Security Forces Surrendered to al Houthis,” al Masdar, July 8, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/59802
“Security Council Confirms Houthi Takeover of Government Facilities and Military and Security Units in Amran,” Sahaf, July 9, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://sahafah.net/show1522984.html
[6] “Security Council Strongly Condemns the Attacks and the al Houthis and Consider it an Act of Aggression and a Flagrant Departure from the Outputs of Dialogue,” al Masdar, July 9, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/59819
[7] “Al Qubayshi before his Death: We will Defend and Fight and Die in Honor and not Fall Asleep at the Eyes of Cowards,” al Masdar, July 9, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/59820
[8] Kathleen Hennessey, “In Devising a Plan in Iraq, U.S. Looks to its Yemen Model,” LA Times, June 22, 2014. Available: http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-obama-iraq-yemen-20140622-story.html#page=1