Houthi forces are continuing to pour manpower into a renewed offensive on the city of Marib, the sole stronghold of the Yemeni government in the north of the country. Heavy fighting continues to be reported on multiple fronts near the city, over a week after fighting broke out once again.
The Yemen Press Network cites a source in the Yemeni military, saying that the Houthi forces have redeployed the majority of their forces in Hodeidah to Marib Governorate to facilitate their bid for the strategic oil-producing city. The claim follows reports earlier in the week that the Iran-backed forces had resorted to human wave attacks in several areas after struggling to take ground. While pro-government forces have been able to prevent large advances, they too are reported to have suffered heavy casualties, with the Royal Saudi Air Force now conducting airstrikes on Houthi forces to help relieve the strain.
The outbreak of fighting came shortly after the US State Department announced that it would be revoking the designation of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, as well as the designation of its leadership, shortly after announcing the end of support for the Saudi-led coalition’s “offensive operations“. The designation of the group, hastily applied during the final days of the Trump administration, had come under criticism for potentially jeopardizing humanitarian access to civilians in Houthi controlled areas, with the-then incoming administration widely expected to revoke the designation as one of its first acts.
Analysts had warned that an equally hasty revocation of the designation, even if warranted, risked sending the Houthis “the wrong message”, that the US would turn a blind eye to its aggression. Sure enough, the Houthis interpreted it that way, beginning a new offensive that has seen the use of ballistic missiles against refugee camps and other civilian targets, as well as a drone attack on Abha International Airport in the south of Saudi Arabia that damaged a civilian airliner.
Marib’s local government made the governorate a relative bastion of stability in recent years, with devolved authority allowing it to use oil and gas revenue to develop infrastructure and institutions. The city has since grown to become home to over two million civilians, many of which are refugees fleeing fighting elsewhere in Yemen. Four refugee camps near Marib have been completely evacuated following continued fighting, with United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock warning of “unimaginable humanitarian consequences” should fighting draw closer to the city.
Tim Lenderking, US special envoy for the Yemeni Civil War, stated on Tuesday that he was “aggressively” using backchannels to communicate with Houthi leadership to get them to cease the offensive. Given that said offensive started after the announcement of the revocation of FTO designation and is still ongoing, it appears that the fate of over two million Yemeni citizens relies on the State Department not sending “the wrong message” a second time.