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NightWatch 20150326

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NightWatch

For the night of 26 March 2015

Yemen: The Yemen crisis continued to expand. Some press services reported that Houthi fighters continued to advance towards Aden, despite the Saudi air attacks.

On 26 March, Yemeni President Hadi appeared in Riyadh, confirming his flight from Aden. Yemeni airlines suspended flights until 29 March.

The air attacks before dawn caught the Houthis by surprise. They damaged an air base near the airport in the capital, Sana'a, as well as anti-aircraft positions and other military bases in and around Sana'a.

The Houthis have no effective air defense systems. They resorted to popular mobilization, calling on "thousands" of supporters to protests the air attacks.

Comment: The Houthis, possibly on Iranian advice, overreached when they began to move into the strongly Sunni Arab governates of southern Yemen. The Saudis and Houthis are in communication. The Saudis gave the Houthis three days to clear out of all Yemeni government buildings.

Coalition update: At least ten nations have joined Operation Decisive Storm to fight the Houthis in Yemen. .

Saudi Arabia: A Saudi brigadier general from the Ministry of Defense gave the first press update on the operation which is named Operation Decisive Storm.

He described the air attacks as phase 1 of the operation, which involves suppression of air defenses. He said Saudi and allied air forces achieved air superiority over Sana'a after 15 minutes of operations. He provided no details about follow-on phases, which might include an invasion by ground forces.

Al-Arabiya reported that the Kingdom was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operation and that Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive in Yemen.

Comment: Al Arabiya overstated the willingness of Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan to send ground troops. Sudan announced its ground force contingent already has begun to move to Yemen.

The Saudi-led operation makes a powerful statement about whom the Saudis consider their primary enemy and rival: Iran. This operation against the Houthis would not have occurred without Saudi leadership. Under King Salman's leadership, the most powerful Muslim states have come together as they have not since the first Gulf War. .

This operation exposes the depth of hostility the Sunni leaders have for Iran and the Shia. The countries in Saudi Arabia's coalition have agreed to provide more forces to block an expansion of Iranian influence than they agreed to provide the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

If the coalition succeeds, it would mark the first Sunni military roll-back of Iranian influence since the Iran-Iraq War (September 1980-August 1988). It also would reinforce Saudi leadership of the Middle East as a military leader, as well as a financial, cultural, religious and economic power. The coalition should succeed in forcing the Houthis to seek negotiations.

Egypt: Egyptian military and security officials supposedly told the international press that the military intervention in Yemen will include a ground assault by Egyptian, Saudi and other ground forces. This assault supposedly is planned to begin after airstrikes have weakened the capabilities of the Houthis and their allies.

The Egyptian presidency, however, said that Egypt's navy and air force were taking part in the Saudi-led coalition. The statement said that Egypt's participation in the military operations was aimed at restoring "legitimacy and stability" in Yemen.

Egyptian and Sudanese media confirmed that four Egyptian navy ships transited the Suez Canal bound for Yemen to secure the Gulf of Aden.

Comment: The statement by the Egyptian presidency gave no indication that Egypt planned to send a ground force to Yemen at this time.

Pakistan: Late on 26 March, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the government had not yet decided to join the coalition led by Saudi Arabia in attacking Yemen. However, Sharif said that any threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan.

Comment: Pakistan declined to join the coalition, unless Saudi Arabia was attacked. A high-level Pakistani delegation, including Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, will visit Saudi Arabia on 27 March to evaluate the Yemen situation.

Turkey: The government said it supports the Saudi Arabia-led military operation and condemned the Houthi assault on Aden. "We support the military operation that has started against the Houthis. We believe this campaign will help prevent the risk of a civil war and chaos that has surfaced in the country, and will restore the legitimate state."

Sudan: Sudan's Defense Minister Abdel Raheem Mohammed Hussein told reporters on Thursday that his country would take part "with air and ground troops in the Decisive Storm operations" against the Houthi rebels. He said Sudanese forces had begun "mechanical movements" towards the area of operations. A spokesman for the government said Sudanese soldiers were on their way to Yemen.

Jordan: A Jordanian official said the country wouldn't forget Saudi Arabia's help in recent military operations in the region, including strikes against Islamic State radicals in Iraq and Syria.

Operation Decisive Storm

Country

Commitment

Saudi Arabia

150,000 soldiers

100 combat aircraft

United Arab Emirates

30 combat aircraft

Bahrain

15 combat aircraft

Qatar

10 combat aircraft

Kuwait

15 combat aircraft

Jordan

6 combat aircraft

Sudan

Unknown number of soldiers

Egypt

4 navy ships; aircraft

Morocco

Willing to participate

Turkey

Supports the operation

Pakistan

Will defend Saudi Arabia if attacked

Comment: The Saudis apparently would like to avoid a ground invasion of Yemen, if possible. They remain open to negotiations with the Houthis, but the Houthis must cede everything they have gained since last September as a condition for negotiations.

US: The US issued the following official statement, "In support of Gulf Cooperation Council actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support."

Comment: As mentioned in an earlier edition of NightWatch, Decisive Storm is not sustainable without American logistic support.

Nigeria-Niger-Chad: Soldiers from Chad and Niger recaptured the northeastern Nigerian town of Gachagar from Boko Haram. The operation in Gachagar, which is near Malam Fatori, took place during the past few days and involved "air and ground bombardments", Defence Minister Mahamadou Karidjo said.

He said there were "a few skirmishes" with the militants but did not give details of any casualties. The soldiers will now redeploy to Malam Fatori, according to Karidjo.

Comment: The significance of this action is that the Francophone forces are continuing the offensive against Boko Haram. Nigerian forces are preparing for presidential elections on 28 March.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army denied that Malam Fatori is in Boko Haram's control. It also denied that Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian civilians as it was driven out of Damasak.

Owing to the five nation coalition that has fought Boko Haram in the past two months, the security situation in Nigeria is more favorable for national elections than at any time in the past six years. Nevertheless, some election-related violence already has occurred and more is certain.

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End of NightWatch for 26 March.

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