Why Yemeni VP’s Aden visit is a first ray of hope
Bahah’s visit was an attempt by President Hadi to build public support and confidence
Two weeks after forces loyal to Yemen’s President Hadi recaptured Aden, Khaled Bahah, Yemen’s Vice President and the Prime Minister of its Riyadh-based government, arrived in Aden yesterday with a group of ministers, the first visit of a senior Yemeni government official since the government was forced into exile. The Vice President noted, “My visit to Aden should not come as a surprise. The city needs facilities to engage in politics.” He further stressed, his visit is “part of the liberation of Aden and part of the normalization of life in it.”
Bahah’s visit was an attempt by President Hadi to build public support and confidence in the government’s efforts to construct an alternative future for Yemen other than the one presented by the Houthis. Critically, as well, Aden’s residents have been facing food, water, and energy shortages and most basic services have broken down. The Vice President visited the liberated city to put back on track the aid and reconstruction efforts.
Since GCC-led airstrikes and pro-government fighters retook Aden late last month, the balance in the Yemen conflict has seemingly tipped into the favor of the Coalition and the exiled Yemeni government. However, President Hadi’s government and the Coalition still face two inter-related changes: building a new Yemen and securing a political settlement of Yemen’s crisis.
Building a new Yemen
Vice President Bahah’s visit is only the beginning and needs to be followed up with concrete steps to immediately provide services and humanitarian relief for Aden’s residents to win the trust and confidence of the Yemeni population after months of war. As ISIS and Al Qaeda seek to further destabilize Yemen and gain a foothold, such efforts will critically dampen the appeal for people to join these groups.
President Hadi should move quickly as well to relocate Yemen’s government from Riyadh to Aden. Such a step would underscore to the Houthis, Saleh, and Iran that Yemen’s political future will not be dictated on their terms, but on the basis of a dialogue amongst all Yemenis. At the same time, symbolically, the re-establishment of the recognized government in Aden would be a critical blow to the Houthis and Saleh in their efforts to intimidate and drive Yemen’s internationally- recognized government out of the country.
Turning the tide
Gains in Aden need to also be further secured on the battlefield. The Coalition is presently targeting areas north of Aden to consolidate control and then launch a further offensive against the Houthis. Solidifying control in the areas north of the city will allow the Coalition and the Hadi government forces to focus on securing the country’s south. They could then begin a northern offensive and push further for a political settlement. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel Jubeir, recently noted that recent Coalition gains might force the Houthis and Saleh to the negotiating table.
Bahah’s visit was an attempt by President Hadi to build public support and confidenceAndrew Bowen
The Coalition may also be considering a larger ground offensive to support these aerial advances. Last Wednesday, President Hadi ordered the integration of “members of the Popular Resistance into the units of the armed forces and security forces” to recognize militiamen for their “brave contribution to defending the homeland.”
In response to the Houthis’ continued efforts to threaten Saudi Arabia, the Coalition targeted Houthi positions in the Saada Governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia. This past week, three Saudi soldiers were killed in cross border shelling. Cross-border offenses, including at the al-Tuwal border crossing and the Saudi provinces of Jazan and Najran have been a daily disruptive occurrence.
A step forward but a solution isn’t yet in reach
Khaled Bahah’s visit represents a small glimmer of hope amidst this war where progress could be made at building a new Yemen in areas like Aden. These liberated areas, living in peace and prosperity, are an existential threat to the Houthis and Saleh, because they illustrate to the Yemeni people what life is like in a free Yemen. Such a model could help weaken the appeal for the Houthis and Saleh in cities including the capital, Sana’a and sow disunity in pro-Saleh aligned military forces’ ranks.
Despite these important gains, Yemen’s war is likely to drag on until the Houthis and Saleh capitulate. Efforts to reach a political settlement are on-going but haven’t produced results yet. A Coalition offensive to regain control of both Yemen’s South and North could take many months. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has to suffer on a daily basis cross-border attacks on Saudi citizens and military personnel. As Hadi builds a new Yemen, the Coalition and its partners should seize on these military gains to push further for peace.
Andrew Bowen, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest.
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