The al Houthis are hosting a large tribal and political gathering in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, to discuss the political crisis. Meanwhile, Ma’rib tribes are mobilizing ahead of an expected al Houthi push for control of the oil and gas facilities there.
Political parties, including the al Houthis, are reportedly leaning toward forming a presidential council to fill Yemen’s executive branch. The al Houthis invited tribal and political leaders to Sana’a for a national congress on January 30 to discuss Yemen’s political situation. The national congress meeting will continue through the weekend.
Violence in Ma’rib is beginning to escalate as tribes prepare for an expected al Houthi incursion into the governorate. Ma’rib tribes began mobilizing and held a military parade on January 29. Separately, unidentified militants ambushed the 23rd Brigade near the Ma’rib-Sana’a border on January 29, killing two soldiers. Yemeni military units carried out a raid on a suspected al Qaeda safe house in southern Ma’rib also on January 29.
Al Houthis crack down on ongoing anti-al Houthi protests and continue to establish control in key areas. Al Houthi local militias, also known as popular committees, arrested a number of protestors and journalists on January 28. The al Houthis organized counter-protests the same day. Al Houthis arrested five youth activists on January 29 in Ibb, south of Sana’a. Unconfirmed reporting indicates that al Houthis took over a military base south of the capital on January 29 and clashed with military units north of the capital in Arhab.
Violence in the rest of the country continues unabated. Gunmen kidnapped a foreigner of possible French citizenship in the southern governorate of Aden. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) insurgent arm Ansar al Sharia detonated an improvised explosive device on January 28 targeting the 117th Infantry Brigade in al Bayda, a governorate south of Sana’a. Armed tribesmen affiliated with Ansar al Sharia killed two soldiers in Lawder, Abyan, in south Yemen. Southern movement militants kidnapped seven soldiers on January 29 in Lahij governorate.
Yemen is inching closer to a financial crisis. Authorities in Shabwah and Hadramawt governorates shut down 11 oil blocks in protest to al Houthi control of the capital. Ma’rib is one of the only governorates still producing oil, but violence in this area will most likely affect oil production and infrastructure. The Ministry of Defense started paying salaries to soldiers, but it is unclear if the government will be able to pay civil and military salaries next month.
The U.S. may be sharing intelligence on AQAP with al Houthis, but U.S. officials asserted that such communication is an effort to “de-conflict” operations. Anonymous U.S. defense officials stated that the U.S. had informal contacts with al Houthis prior to the January 19 takeover of Sana’a, but that the U.S. is not directly providing intelligence to the Yemeni group. Al Houthi commanders stated that the U.S. gave logistical aid to al Houthis in exchange for intelligence on AQAP beginning in November 2014.
Continued al Houthi threats to move into Ma’rib may drive tribes in the governorate to work with AQAP, giving AQAP more room to expand. The potential inability of the government to pay military salaries in the coming months risks the possibility that troops combatting AQAP in southern governorates may refuse to fight.