US stands by as Saudi coalition begins assault on Yemeni port city

3 hours ago

Residents of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah have been anticipating a Saudi-led invasion for weeks. It may have just begun.

Naval warships from the Saudi-led coalition began firing on Hodeidah overnight in what could be the first shots of a battle to drive out Houthi rebels that have held the city since 2014. Early reports indicate that rebels returned missile fire and that the warships retreated.

The United Arab Emirates has taken the lead in the effort to wrest Hodeidah from control by the rebel group Ansar Allah, known simply as the Houthis, which captured the port city as it seized control of most of Yemen in a military coup that began in late 2014. Over the weekend US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement that neither supported an invasion nor condemned it.

"The United States is closely following developments in Hudaydah, Yemen," he wrote in a State Department press release. "I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports.  We expect all parties to honor their commitments to work with the UN Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen on this issue, support a political process to resolve this conflict, ensure humanitarian access to the Yemeni people, and map a stable political future for Yemen."

Pompeo left enough wiggle room for the UAE to comfortably announce its intentions to attack.

RelatedResidents of Yemeni port city prepare for an invasion

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan began circulating a letter calling on US Secretary of Defense James Mattis to persuade the coalition to hold fire and prevent what many humanitarian groups are predicting will be a disaster for Hodeidah's civilian population.

Last week, The World spoke with people in Hodeidah who were preparing for a potential attack. One Hodeidah resident, Hanadi, said this morning that she has not heard anything yet.

Hanadi, a humanitarian aid worker who asked that we use only her first name, lives in the city near the main road to the Hodeidah airport, several miles from the port. Earlier this week, after the UAE tipped off international NGOs that the assault was imminent, Hanadi emailed her staff to prepare: Either leave the city or lay in supplies, she told them.

“Dear employees,” she wrote in Arabic on Monday. “Provide your home for extra food: biscuits wheat, water, canned food and lights — minimum for two weeks. And it's better to let your families travel to the safe places such as villages, away from the risk areas. This is the priority to facilitate movement if the situation gets worse.” She ended her memo ominously: “God save our country and its innocent people.”

Arabic twitter tagged with the word Hodeidah is full of images of the Saudi king, the crown prince, war planes and coalition soldiers.

This tweet, from a Saudi account, prays to God to assist coalition troops, “by land, sea and air … tie their hearts to victory, victory.” The image of soldiers is a stock photo. An actual beach assault has not taken place as of this writing.

The World is following the ongoing events in Hodeidah and this story may be updated.

From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI