Yemen: UAE-backed forces charge into Marib after taking Shabwah from Houthis
The dramatic reversal of fortunes in Yemen’s Shabwah was underscored on Tuesday when Turki al-Maliki, spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi movement, held a press conference in the battleground province.
Two weeks ago, the Houthis held three districts of Shabwah, a southeastern province boasting oil infrastructure that had become the latest frontline in Yemen’s seven-year war.
However, since the arrival of the crack UAE-backed al-Amaliqa (Giants) Brigades, ushered in after Shabwah’s anti-UAE governor was replaced, forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognised government have taken the whole province.
The pro-government advance is continuing, however.
On Monday night, the head of the Southern Transitional Council, a group that demands independence of the south, announced that their forces will keep advancing north to support northerners and keep the south safe from the Houthis.
On Tuesday, the al-Amaliqa Brigades and other southern fighters advanced into neighbouring Marib province, recapturing most of the Harib district.
In his Shabwah press conference, Maliki announced a new operation: “Freedom of Happy Yemen.”
Ahmed*, an al-Amaliqa fighter in Shabwah, told Middle East Eye that the advance showed his group could redeploy from their west coast base to wherever they were needed.
“Two weeks ago, there were some rumours about our withdrawal from the western coast and some people didn’t believe us when we said we have priorities, but now everyone is happy to see Shabwah was liberated from the Houthi militia,” he said.
“We had a clear plan and we liberated Shabwah in record time, as southern people arrived to the front lines from different provinces in the south.”
Shabwah has been pummelled by Saudi-led coalition air strikes over the past two weeks, and Ahmed said they played a large part in the advance.
“The most important thing is that we are fighting with high spirits and every day there are more fighters joining the battles, both fighters and residents of Shabwah,” he added.
'We had a clear plan and we liberated Shabwah in record time, as southern people arrived to the front lines from different provinces'
- Ahmed, al-Amaliqa fighter
In September, the Houthis took advantage of disagreements between Shabwah’s then-governor, Mohammed Saleh bin Adyo, and UAE-backed forces, moving their fighters into much of the province. Bin Adyo’s replacement with pro-UAE governor Awadh al-Awlaqi last month proved a turning point.
“The new governor is more active and cares about Shabwah, so we are fighting under his leadership and definitely we will save Shabwah from the Houthis or any other militias that try to create chaos,” said Ahmed.
The al-Amaliqa fighter confirmed his forces had almost complete control of Harib after receiving directions to keep advancing into Marib.
“The north is the door of the south. If the Houthis are still near the south, they may advance anytime. So we are advancing in Marib and other northern provinces to keep the Houthis far from the south and to help northern people to liberate their areas.”
Another fighter, who is fighting on the al-Balaq front and other places near Marib city, said developments in Shabwah had relieved pressure on the battlegrounds he is on.
“We thank our brothers who advanced today from Shabwah, as that new front will force the Houthi militia to send some fighters there and the pressure on us will be reduced,” the fighter told MEE.
“It is true that Marib is a way to Shabwah, so we need to fight shoulder to shoulder with southern fighters to liberate Marib.”
Houthi assaults had become noticeably less frequent, the fighter said, predicting that pro-government forces will make their own advances soon.
For residents of Marib city, which has been a key target for the Houthis in recent months, they are happy to see northern and southern fighters battle side by side after frictions in recent years that have often turned violent.
“During the last four years, we would hear about fighting between pro-government and pro-UAE forces in Shabwah, while the Houthis have been advancing there,” Marib resident Mohammed Nasser told MEE.
“Today we are happy to see no fighting between them and all weapons are now against the Houthis. I believe that they can advance now in Marib and other provinces, as unity means strength.”