2021 Roundup: How did Yemen defeat the Saudi coalition?
By Ali Jezzini
Originally published by Al-Mayadeen English
The Yemeni mountains, with their difficult topography, the social composition of their people, and their solid beliefs, constitute one of the few places in this world that are resistant to the invasion of foreign states and empires states.
Such Traits can also be attributed to the mountains of Afghanistan. In both of these cases, the country’s political capital sometimes fell, as Kabul came under British control for a brief period in the wars of the British Empire, as well as the last NATO war in Afghanistan. The same goes for Sanaa, which was resistant to two Ottoman invasions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ottoman forces did not enter the capital until the day dispute arose between its notables; the ottoman attempt took place in the nineteenth century.
In both the Ottoman and English invasions, when the urban elite conceded, the tribes would just return to their rugged mountains, as if nothing had happened only to revolt after several decades over the established rule. This is what defines a rebellion movement.
What is fundamentally different in the ongoing war on Yemen is that we are not dealing here with a “rebellion” or a “resistance movement” in the academic sense; neither Sanaa has fallen, nor a number of strategic cities in Yemen did. The city of Al-Hodeidah, which is situated in the middle of the western coastal plain of Yemen, did not fall to the Saudi coalition despite being subjected to all kinds of air and artillery bombardment, and its “rebels” did not have to fall back to the mountains, as resistance movements do in asymmetric wars.
Since 2014, every attempt to occupy the capital, Sanaa, ended in a humiliating defeat for the Saudi coalition forces. Hence, the Sanaa forces show an exceptional capability in holding the acquired land.
A significant factor is also the ability of the Yemeni armed forces and Ansar Allah to fight similar types of pitched battles, in which the weaker party does not just strike and flee, but is committed to preserving the land and achieving progress at other times, in a predetermined battlefield.
The Yemeni revolution also emerged from what we can call the ‘Maoist style’ of resistance, and in fact, it enjoys broad popular support without a doubt, but it does not use this popular, civilian environment in hostilities directly but rather wages battles using conventional tactics. It includes hit and run, as well as harassment and ambushes, but still, we find the exact opposite of a regular insurgency or a rebellion in Yemen. The deterrence imposed by Yemen on the coalition of aggression is closer to be a conventional deterrence, rather than the actions of irregular movements. In a simpler sense, usually in the early stages of a revolution, rebels usually have weak capabilities, so they pull benefit from the aggression of the stronger party against civilians as a means to attract the latter to their cause.
In Yemen, the situation is quite different. The Yemeni revolution has a very high popular embrace, and while there is no doubt that these attacks constitute a factor of attraction for the Yemeni society towards the ongoing revolution, but the deterrence equation imposed by the Yemeni armed forces, seems to be aimed primarily at protecting the Yemeni people first, then the infrastructure and institutions of Yemen.
2019 Operation Victory from God
The operation Victory from God carried out by Sanaa forces can constitute a clear example of this type of warfare. The proximity of the operation to the Saudi-Yemeni international borders did not prevent the Yemenis from deluding the Saudi coalition forces and their mercenary brigades by fainting a tactical retreat from the area. Subsequently, the Saudis and their allies chased the retreating forces just to fall into a trap in Jbara valley, where the advancing forces were attacked by Yemeni forces from both flanks in a pincer movement. The operation culminated in the total destruction of several infantry brigades. In the process, hundreds of vehicles were destroyed or damaged, their burning columns appeared in the videos published by the Yemeni military media.
Operations of this complexity and magnitude, not only require a physical presence of forces of a certain size but also require a high level of coordination and professionalism in moving military units and battalions, as well as a high ability to conceal these forces from the eyes of the enemy reconnaissance and intelligence. All these military actions are taking place under the uncontested air control of the US-Saudi coalition.
As it is quite difficult for inexperienced, or guerrilla organizations, to accomplish such combat maneuvers, Ansar Allah and the Yemeni armed forces show a clear superiority over the regular and modern Saudi forces, as they define themselves. Another aspect of the equation is the imposition of deterrence equations on the Saudi coalition, in case civilians or infrastructures structure of the Yemeni state and committed massacres, a balanced response is due.
This deterrence was achieved by striking sensitive and strategic targets of the countries of aggression, such as oil facilities, military airports, and military centers, with the infliction of a negligible number of civilian casualties. Here, Yemenis accused of being just “rebels” act more faithfully to the ethics and laws of war than the US-backed Saudi coalition, which practices a policy of collective punishment and deliberately bombs civilians.
Sanaa forces regularly use precision weapons, such as the Tochka (OTR-21) missile, to strike the enemy’s military bases. Examples of such strikes happened in Safer, Mocha, and Khamis Mushait Air Bases. In the latter, the commander of the Saudi Air Force, Muhammad bin Ahmed Al-Shaalan, suffered “a heart attack” four days after the Khamis Mushait Air Base was bombed in June 2015. The announcement of the commander’s death came in mysterious circumstances. On the other hand, the US-backed Saudi coalition regularly practices collective punishment and deliberately bombs civilians.
2021 large-scale Jazan operation
“In combat, soldiers fight for their comrades. The primary group motivates people. Cohesion is the bond of trust between members of a group. There are four types of cohesion: horizontal cohesion among peers, vertical cohesion, from subordinate to commander, and organizational cohesion within the army. Cohesive units fight better, suffer fewer casualties, train better, do not disintegrate, require less support, and provide members with a better quality of life.”
This quote comes from a guide for the US Navy from 2002, which shows the importance of the cohesion of military units in terms of their performance, and the difficulty of destroying these units when they are under attack or pressured by fire. During the war in Yemen, the Saudi forces showed very poor cohesion and discipline, even at the beginning of the war, not to mention their gradual decline as the war dragged on.
This can be explained by several factors: at the individual level, we cannot judge due to the absence of perceptual evidence at the level of relations between soldiers, as it may be affected by the constant periodic drafts, or by the high rate of losses, so that replacement becomes necessary. As for the relation between commanders and the army, the relation looks to be negative, as evidenced by the al-Akhbar [Lebanese] newspaper in an article by writer Ali Murad, titled “Bin Salman through the eyes of his officers: We have perished to this child [MBS]!”. The article narrates, through leaks of a former Saudi high ranking officer, the collapse of the fighting spirit of the soldiers since the first months of the war and their lack of belief in its outcome, neither in its cause nor in Bin Salman himself, who is running the war.
In the large-scale Jazan operation that took place in May-June 2021, Saudi performance and the discipline of its soldiers were scandalous; video clips showed the escape of mercenaries of Yemeni and Sudanese nationalities, and some of the fleeing soldiers were wearing Saudi ground forces uniforms fleeing without their helmets, weapons. the complexities of carrying out such an operation of this magnitude lay mainly in transferring offensive forces to the front without being noticed by the enemy. Since ancient times, training soldiers included was not only aimed at increasing their resistance to being “broken,” but also to commit retreats in the most organized fashion, since most losses of the defeated do not happen within the battle itself, but during the process of the retreat itself.
In addition to the above, armored vehicles were completely absent from the front during this operation. The only armored vehicle that appeared was an M-113 personnel carrier, along with dozens of Toyota civilian trucks. During the past years, Saudis were rarely successful in introducing their armor to the battlefield as the results were catastrophic. Yemenis excelled in the destruction of such vehicles, to the extent that they destroyed Canadian LAV-25 armored vehicles using 12.7-caliber anti-material sniper rifles, the bullets of which penetrated the back of its turret and burned it. Many vehicles were burned with only a lighter, the one used for lighting cigarettes.
What will the soldiers of any army think if that army pulls its armored vehicles and tanks, which cost millions of dollars to the rear lines while placing them on the front lines? Won’t the idea that their live flesh is cheaper for their superior cross their minds? On the other hand, Yemenis show military toughness, cohesion, and discipline, much higher than those whom they fight, and who are defined in Western academic literature as a “modern regular army.”
2022 Marib Liberation operation?
A similar operation to Victory from God occurred a few months ago, operation Victory Spring (Rabi al-Nasr), but this time in the vicinity of Marib. The city is controlled by the Saudi coalition and its mercenaries and has seen fierce battles during the years of war. The ongoing battle around the city has been described by many experts as the battle that is going to decide the outcome of the war.
Currently, the Sanaa forces are about 8-10 km away from the strategic city from their closest position in al-Balaq al-Sharqi mountains. Such achievements were a result of the previously mentioned complex operation. In brief, the Yemeni forces eluded the coalition forces that the main attack is going to be launched from the north-western flank of the city, but the main thrust came from the South-west. Despite it being heavily defended as well, the combat readiness of its troops seemed to be meager, as Sanaa forces manages to advance almost 60 km in 2-3 days, a rate that was not expected by the Saudi coalition and neither by their backers. The speed and coordination of that attack prevented the enemy from reacting to it, and as a result, Sanaa Forces now threaten both north and southwestern flanks of the Saudi coalition forces.
By looking at the map, one can only expect that the liberation of Marib is just a matter of time. This assumption is not only based on the material factors in play but also the perseverance of Yemeni forces on previous occasions. Such steadfastness and perseverance made them resist and survive on the harshest wars and sieges launched by the US and its allies against a country in this century.
2022 is, without a doubt, going to be the year for Yemen and its brave people.