Houthi Forces Claim Missile Strike off Port of Hodeidah
On Thursday, as the battle for the port city of Hodeidah continued, Houthi rebel forces said that they had successfully deterred a naval attack by Saudi coalition forces to the south near al-Olifika.
Houthi-aligned military spokesman Col. Aziz Rashed told media in Sanaa, Yemen that rebel forces had struck an unnamed UAE warship with two missiles. UAE government sources confirmed the attack in comments to CNN on Wednesday.
Fighting on the ground is focused on the area around Hodeidah's airport, to the south of the city, and the UN reported that aid shipments continued to flow at Hodeidah's port. “We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande told media.
As of Thursday afternoon, no attacks had been reported within the city itself, according to Norwegian aid group NRC, despite the overhead presence of fighter jets. Earlier this week, Saudi coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told regional TV network al-Hadath that “we will not fight a street war with the Houthis in Hodeidah city, for the safety of civilians." Instead, he suggested, coalition forces would focus on taking the airport, the seaport and the road to the Houthi capital at Sanaa.
Aid groups have warned for months that an assault on the port could disrupt the flow of relief supplies to Yemeni civilians, including an estimated eight million people who are at risk of famine. The UN considers the Yemeni civil war to be the world's worst humanitarian disaster at present.
The Saudi-led coalition says that it has a five-point plan to avoid any disruption to the relief effort, including a preplanned logistics operation. "We have several ships stationed, and we have storage capacity very close to Hodeidah fully stocked up," said Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, according to the UAE's embassy in Beijing.
The United States supplies the coalition with aerial refueling and intelligence, and the Department of Defense does not "provide any additional support," according to Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Galloway (USMC). However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration is currently considering a request from the UAE for deeper involvement in the attempt to retake Hodeidah from Houthi forces. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday that the U.S. expressed its "desire to address [UAE] security concerns" in Yemen, so long as humanitarian aid efforts are preserved.
A small number of legislators on Capitol Hill have expressed skepticism about the current level of U.S. support for coalition forces. The U.S. Senate's version of the FY2019 omnibus defense spending bill contains a provision that would ban continued in-flight refueling for UAE and Saudi aircraft unless the administration can certify that the coalition is attempting to end the war through diplomacy. Additional requirements include verified coalition efforts to reduce delays for aid shipments and demonstrable actions to reduce harm to civilians from airstrikes. A halt to this assistance could have a significant effect on the coalition's warfighting capability: among others, ex-CIA analyst Bruce Reidel assesses that the Royal Saudi Air Force is "wholly dependent on American and British support for its maintenance and operations."