Saudi Arabia fights to turn the tide in the Yemen Civil War

MARIB, Yemen — Enemy bullets rip through their heads. A barefoot Yemeni soldier, calling himself Fouad the Brave, grabbed an assault rifle and returned fire from behind a sandbar, targeting Iran-backed Houthi fighters a few hundred yards away.

The small outpost in the desert manned by Fouad and a few sunburned soldiers is on the front lines of Yemen’s civil war, which has ravaged government forces led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. support against the Houthi rebels allied with Tehran.

Marib is one of the last major reserves that the Yemeni government has in the north of the country. “Either we win,” Fouad said, “or we try to die.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies, with local proxies trying to hold their ground and with Washington scaling back support for the conflict, are struggling to turn the tide in the region. here, stepping up aerial bombings and missile attacks.


A Yemeni soldier sits in the back of a truck towards the front line in Marib.


Marib is one of the last major strongholds of Yemeni government forces in the north of the country.

According to the Yemen Data Project, a non-profit organization that tracks the war in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition carried out about 700 airstrikes in February. That would make it the next phase. the most intense bombing since 2018.

In the past four months, more than 1,500 Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured, up from 823 in the previous four months, according to the Civil Impact Monitoring Project, which collects information about the war for the United Nations. Country. The group said airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were responsible for most of the casualties.

Saudi officials say the central goal of the airstrikes is to push the Houthis back and hurt them enough that they feel compelled to negotiate an end to the war. Peace talks have stalled for months as the Houthis try to capture Marib.

The United States and the United Nations have urged Saudi Arabia to reduce air strikes. However, officials in Riyadh and Yemen say they intend to hit the Houthis even harder.

Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, governor of Marib, said: “We must continue the fight. His home was destroyed in September by two ballistic missiles by the Houthis. “This is a step in the right direction, but it is just the beginning.”


Governor of Marib, Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah.

The Houthis have responded to the moves of Saudi Arabia and the UAE by launching missile and drone attacks against the Gulf states. They also fired more rockets at Marib, including a salvo of seven that hit the city on February 19 while a Wall Street Journal reporter and photographer was visiting.

The growing violence comes seven years after Saudi Arabia and a small group of allied nations launched a bombing campaign that Riyadh says will take just weeks to dislodge the Houthi fighters. captured the Yemeni capital San’a in a flare-up of conflict. Arab Spring.

Instead, the war has protracted and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with the United Nations estimating that more than 377,000 people have died as a result of the war, 70%. among them are children.

The war in Yemen also provides an opportunity for Iran to turn the powerful Houthi fighters into one of Tehran’s most battle-hardened allies. The group can now fly advanced drones and fire long-range missiles capable of hitting the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE more than 800 miles away.

While Saudi-backed fighters say they have made some gains in recent weeks, the Houthis still control the country’s capital and much of the northern highlands of the country. nation. The fractured Yemeni government and its allies retain fragile control over the south and east.

If the Houthis took Marib, it would give them effective control over all of northern Yemen, along with oil money they could use to continue to fund their war.

A top Saudi official said: “If they control Marib, we will lose the war and lose security and stability in the region.


Motaidi Ali Mansour, 9, was in danger of losing his leg after being hit by shrapnel from a Houthi missile, the boy’s father said.


Workers make prosthetics at Marib General Hospital.

Officials in Marib, once a prosperous oil-rich outpost, say more than two million people have sought refuge here – nearly 60 percent of the 3.5 million Yemenis displaced by the war. Most are located in about 150 spartan camps around Marib.

Arafat Al Subhari fled San’a with his wife and five children in 2017 after gunmen shot his father dead in the head, he said. They have moved four times to different camps. They ran away, one ran away when the Houthis entered and another ran away because he was hit by a missile from the Houthis.

Mr. Subhari is so tired of running that he doesn’t want to move anymore, even though he and his family live in a camp without running water or electricity. “It would be nice to have a safe place to live,” he said.

At Marib General Hospital, doctors treat casualties from fighting. Motaidi Ali Mansour, a nine-year-old boy, was at risk of losing his leg after being hit by shrapnel from a Houthi missile, according to his father, Amin Ali Mansour.

“The Houthis are like a cancer, and we need to get rid of it,” Mansour said.

In the next room, three wounded Yemeni soldiers said the war would not end until world leaders did more to stop Iran from helping the Houthis.

Osama Adel, a 27-year-old Yemeni soldier, dropped out of college in 2015 to fight and has been wounded four times in seven years.


A camp near Marib houses some of the more than two million displaced Yemenis who have sought refuge in the area.


Families visit a fairground in central Marib.

“My weapon was a pen, but now it’s a gun,” Adel said on his hospital bed amid breathing oxygen from a mask after being shot by the Houthis. “They forced me to fight.”

The United States and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of providing weapons, advice, and support to the Houthis, which they used to build and launch a series of drones and missiles that targeted Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh. ships off the coast of Yemen.

Iran is one of the few countries that has diplomatic relations with the Houthis. Tehran has denied it supplies them with weapons.

The Houthis are focusing on Marib in an attempt to deal a blow to the Saudi-backed government. Saudi officials say the Houthis refuse to negotiate while they try to capture Marib.

Nasr al-Din Amir, Deputy Minister of Information of the Houthis, said the fighters still hold the advantage. “We are the ones making strides in the field,” he said. “They are trying to tell the world that they have changed the balance of power in their favor, but this is a complete and complete lie.”

Lieutenant General Mohammed Ali Al-Maqdashi, Yemen’s defense minister, ran the fight for Marib from a war room deep in the mountainside – an effort to avoid Houthi missile attacks. He expressed no hope that peace talks would end the war.


A Yemeni soldier crosses the desert near Marib’s front line.

“The Houthis will not accept peace,” he said. “We are not fighting the Houthis. We are fighting Iran.”

Saudi Arabia keeps its low form in attack. To reduce the risk of being targeted, Saudi Arabia’s military advisers in Yemen have ditched their uniforms for the traditional ankle-length robes commonly worn here.

On the far edges of Marib, the Yemeni fighters were exhausted. The front lines were in some places more than zigzag fields fortified with canvas rice sacks filled with sand. Most skirmishes happen at night, when the scorching temperatures drop.

On a recent morning, a Saudi-led warplane flew overhead. A Houthi drone crashed into several Yemeni military vehicles, causing several of them to catch fire. Yemeni fighters seek shelter from the sun wherever they can — in a makeshift platform perched on an acacia tree branch, underneath a truck carrying rocket launchers, behind a tree There was a fragile child Winnie the Pooh fluttering in the breeze.

As the Houthi bullets flew past his head, a barefoot boxer calmly sat with his back to the front line as Yemeni officers rushed to a waiting pickup truck and sped away.

“God protect us,” the soldier said as Yemeni fighters along the clearing tried to hold the line.

Write letter for Dion Nissenbaum at

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