The victory announcement against the al Houthis in Aden may be premature, though there are signs that the al Houthis have lost the momentum for the time being. Support for the reinstallation of a government under Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi is not high among many of the popular resistance forces, and their successes in holding territory may reinforce the present fracture lines in the country.
Anti-al Houthi forces have almost secured Aden following significant support through “Operation Golden Arrow.” Operation Golden Arrow, the first major offensive in Aden since it fell under al Houthi control in late March, recaptured al Mualla district and much of Khormaksar district, including Aden international airport, and is continuing to clear Aden’s Crater and al Tawahi districts. Current social media reports say U.S.-sanctioned Abdulkhaleq al Houthi, the brother of al Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi and the group’s military leader, was captured among the al Houthi forces now besieged in Crater district. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition supported the operation, which reinforced Adeni resistance forces with UAE-supplied armored vehicles brought in by sea and a 300-man unit that had received additional military training. There are elements among the resistance forces that now patrol Aden that support secession from north Yemen.
The next objective for Operation Golden Arrow may be regaining control of Taiz. Local sources are reporting that there are warships at Mocha port with military assets to deploy to Taiz and that Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes are targeting the al Houthi-held al Berh Cement Factory, which overlooks the road from Mocha to Taiz. Popular resistance forces in Taiz already had the momentum against the al Houthi forces. They recently seized control of Jabal al Jarah, a strategic location in Taiz city, and were attacking in Hawban area, which controls access to the eastern part of Taiz city and to the airport.
The al Houthis may be consolidating forces as reports say they are withdrawing from front-line locations. Local sources are beginning to report that al Houthi-loyal forces are gathering in Usailayn district in Shabwah governorate after withdrawing from Ataq, the capital of Shabwah, and Bayhan district. The al Houthi-loyal forces also withdrew from positions overlooking al Anad military base, which is between Taiz and Aden cities in Lahij governorate, though the move may be in preparation for a counter-offensive against Aden from the north. The fall of Taiz, however, would begin to isolate those forces in al Anad.
Saudi Arabia may seek to re-install President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government in a newly liberated Aden city to re-establish a foothold in Yemen. Rumors are now circulating that Hadi will be in Aden for Eid al Fitr prayers on July 17, his first return to Yemen since he fled in March. Photographs of Hadi also depict him overseeing the liberation of Aden, which may be an attempt to build support for him inside of Yemen, particularly in the south. Though Hadi is a southerner, he fought alongside former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the 1994 civil war and lost critical popular support when he called for the Saudi Arabia-led air campaign against the al Houthis, which decimated southern cities like Aden.
Operation Golden Arrow has begun rolling back the al Houthis’ gains in southern Yemen, but its success may not resolve the Yemeni conflict. The offensive relies on popular resistance forces to combat the al Houthis, which are not present in north and central Yemen, and it will not necessarily result in the re-unification of Yemeni factions under a central state.
Joseph Hughes and Joshua Koontz contibuted research for this publication.