UAE-Backed Forces Attack Hodeidah
Despite warnings from aid agencies and a last-minute effort to broker a truce, UAE-backed forces have launched an assault on the rebel-held port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, a key hub for the nation's food imports.
The UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had attempted to reach an agreement between Houthi rebels and the coalition forces that would have seen the rebels hand over control of Hodeidah to UN, thereby removing the cause for an assault on the city. These talks did not prevent UAE forces from moving forward, and on Monday, the Red Cross and the UN withdrew their staff in the expectation of hostilities. Coalition forces began their attack from the south on Tuesday morning.
The majority of Yemenis rely on food that arrives in Hodeidah's seaport, according to aid agency Care International in Yemen, and the offensive could exacerbate a tenuous situation. An estimated eight million Yemeni citizens are already at risk of famine, and an interruption in cargo deliveries could cause this number to rise, aid groups warn.
The current status of the seaport is unclear, and Reuters reported that new entry permits may be denied due to the fighting. The World Food Program said that one of its chartered vessels was already at the pier in Hodeidah and was continuing to discharge its cargo.
The coalition assault may involve an amphibious component. Pro-Houthi media reported that Houthi forces struck a UAE military landing barge near Hodeidah, and EOS Risk Group reported that coalition helicopters were conducting SAR operations in the area. EOS added that Saudi naval and air forces are conducting strikes in the area, including attacks on Houthi boats.
In the U.S., several members of Congress have made clear their opposition to the American policy of providing aerial refueling and intelligence to the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition backing the Yemeni government. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said in a statement that an attack on Hodeidah would be a red line that would create a "strategic, moral and legal obligation to cut off all support" for the coalition.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Monday expressing support for the UAE's "security concerns" alongside a desire to safeguard the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial cargo into Yemen.
American intelligence agencies assess that Iran is supplying military equipment and financial assistance to Houthi forces, including the technology required for remotely-controlled bomb boats and anti-ship missiles. Houthi rebels have staged successful missile strikes on multiple vessels over the past several years, and have attempted to attack American warships.