Saudis Pledge to Continue Yemen Bombing Campaign
The Shia rebels’ northern stronghold and other key military installations were targeted and heavy air strikes hit Sana’a, the capital, in waves throughout the night. Officials at the rebel-controlled health ministry in the city said at least 39 civilians had been killed so far.
The Saudi defence minister’s adviser, Brig Ahmed bin Hassan Asiri, said at the campaign’s first press briefing late on Thursday night that the Saudi-led coalition had established air superiority over Yemen and accomplished its initial goals of destroying air defence systems under Houthi control.
He said a ground campaign was not planned, but he did not rule out the possibility. “At these current stages there is no planning for operations by ground forces, but if the situation necessitates it the Saudi ground forces are ready and the forces of friendly states are ready and any form of aggression will be answered,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and fellow Sunni-led allies in the Gulf and the Middle East view the Houthi takeover in Yemen as an attempt by Iran to establish a proxy on the kingdom’s southern border. The campaign, operation Decisive Storm, threatens to spark a regional confrontation between Iran and its Arab rivals, who are increasingly anxious at the Islamic republic’s growing influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Arab officials still hope the air campaign – launched late on Wednesday and backed by the US, Gulf states, Egypt and Turkey – will weaken the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who are attempting to overthrow President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and avoid the need for a ground offensive.
Asiri said air strikes targeted surface-to-air missile batteries, anti-aircraft guns and Houthi command and communications centres. The Dulaimi air base was also hit, destroying aircraft hangars and runways as well as weapons, ammunition and maintenance depots.
“The operations will continue as long as there is a need for them to continue, until all their goals are achieved,” he said. “The goal is to prevent the Houthi militias from harming the Yemeni people and its neighbours led by the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], and we will not allow the Houthi rebellion to receive any supplies until the end of the operation,” he said.
The possibility of a ground offensive in Yemen grew significantly on Thursday when Egypt declared its readiness to send troops into the country “if necessary”.
Three senior Egyptian security and military officials told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would lead a ground operation in Yemen after a campaign of air strikes to weaken the rebels, saying the forces would enter by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. They said on Thursday that other nations would also be involved.
Hadi, who fled to Aden earlier this month, arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, Saudi state television reported.
The Gulf states have intervened on the ground before in recent years, with Saudi troops moving in to quell the uprising in Bahrain in 2011 in support of the Sunni Khalifa monarchy, which rules over a Shia majority. But a ground campaign in Yemen would pose major challenges, pitting the coalition against an insurgent movement backed by Iran with important redoubts in the north of the country.