Yemen military to 'change tactics'

Efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in the north of the country have collapsed, with each side blaming the other.

President Salih has vowed to "cleanse" Saada province of rebels but in a speech on Wednesday he acknowledged that Operation Scorched Earth, which began on August 11, has not been a success so far.

"Had they been an organised force, we would have crushed them in the first weeks of the battle,” he told staff of the Badr brigade who are shortly to be deployed in the area. “We are, however, facing a guerrilla war. We will change our tactics … We are confident that we will able to cleanse all these areas in the coming weeks.”

A rebel statement claimed that Saudi warplanes carried out two air raids on al-Malahid district early yesterday, in coordination with the Yemeni army. This is not the first claim of its kind and, once again, it was emphatically denied by the Yemeni defence ministry.

Conceivably the rebels are inventing these stories to counter the rival claims that they are being armed by Iran. However, it is well known that Saudi Arabia is extremely worried about the situation in Yemen, especially since the rebellion is so close to its border. UPI noted yesterday: "Riyadh is becoming increasingly alarmed that Iran is arming the insurgents and that its unruly southern neighbour is in danger of sliding out of control."

The claims of Saudi military involvement are therefore not implausible and the Yemeni government has strong motives for denying them, since this would be interpreted domestically as a sign of weakness.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 August 2009.