White House ‘considering potential attack’ to liberate al-Hudaydah port

Pierre Ghanem

Published: Updated:

Washington D.C. – US official sources have confirmed to Al Arabiya a White House meeting is set this week to discuss the situation in Yemen, specifically the port of al-Hudaydah.

The meeting is set to be attended by key members of the US government in which they will discuss the situation in Yemen since the Arab Alliance requested their participation in the battle to control the port.

The proposal dates back to last year when the United Arab Emirates presented a plan to the Obama administration, which included an attack on the port and the nearby city to remove the Houthis and their allies from the coastal area.

The hope is that a counter-attack would prevent the militias from threatening navy and commercial ships on international waters in the Red Sea and from receiving weapons supplies from Iran or members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

Obama’s administration rejected the plan because it was seen as a direct engagement of US troops in Yemen. The former president called for a halt to the military campaign against the Houthis and Saleh and was an advocate for a political solution in Yemen rather than a military one.

Two plans to tackle the Houthis

US officials have revealed that there are two plans to engage in Yemen against the Houthis and their allies, one sponsored by Central District Commander General Joseph Votel, and the other by Defense Secretary James Mattis.

US President Donald Trump will have to decide which plan to proceed with. In any case, the US troops will have a larger role in Yemen alongside the alliance and against Iran's allies.

People walk past a ship ducked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen February 1, 2017
People walk past a ship ducked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen February 1, 2017

US officials and non-officials have leaked some details of the UAE plan to liberate Hudaydah. The evidence points that some UAE forces would land at the port while the United States assists with Special Forces, air and sea backup and surveillance. The biggest challenge will be to maintain the liberated lands from counter-attacks by the Houthis and their allies.

Americans in the meantime do not seem too eager to send their troops to the battlefield, especially given the potential of ground troops exposed to high risk situations. The experience of joint action during a limited operation, as in the case of al-Bayda in the attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold in Yemen, remains an option to help the coalition achieve a military victory. The current administration has declared that much of what happened in Bayda should be avoided. Nevertheless, the death of one soldier from the special navy forces should not stop these operations.

How American military support would look like

US Defense Secretary James Mattis did not include US ground troops or US special units on his battle plan. The US plan appears to be a bigger support for a regional force, a US official said.

The proposal of the secretary of state include planning, providing coordinates and fuel for the fighters. Furthermore, the US naval vessels deployed in the region will continue to prevent the infiltration of aid to the Houthis and their allies. It can also bomb sites on the coast and land with Tomahawk missiles and destroy sites in and around the port.

Perhaps the most important factor in US involvement in Yemen is that military leaders demand greater freedom to act on the ground. Former President Barack Obama was reluctant to act and support the coalition. He made it clear that any military intervention on the ground can only be allowed by the White House. The Current Defense Secretary James Matisse is now asking that field commanders, especially the Central Command, be given a broad margin to act and manage the battle without going back in detail to the White House.

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis waits for the start of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Feb 15, 2017 (Photo: AP/Virginia Mayo)
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis waits for the start of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Feb 15, 2017 (Photo: AP/Virginia Mayo)

The second element of importance is the political military component. The current president is showing great seriousness in the face of Iranian influence on more than one arena. He is firm in sending more American soldiers to the battlefield, as in Syria and Iraq. The Americans are providing substantial aid to the Iraqi forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight and engaging more in the operations to topple Mosul and Raqqa. Trump intends to provide military support to Yemen without sending ground troops.

Trump confronting Iran

With the arrival of current President Donald Trump's administration, many approaches have changed. Trump shares similar policies with GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE in that Iran is expanding its influence by providing financial, military and political support to militias within Arab countries, including Yemen.

The trump administration does not only consider this as an interference in the affairs of the Arab countries, but as a threat to the security of international waters and an extension of the Iranian influence allowed by the Obama administration.

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