Disabled Yemeni fighters return to front line to protect home from Houthi rebels

Fadhel Al Sawlani lost his leg in a landmine blast in 2015 while fighting Houthis. Now he is back on the front line, trying to protect his home province from invasion

Yemenis Fadhel Al Sawlani, right, and Saleh Ahmed Naser, do not let a disability get in the way of fighting on the front line. Courtesy: Ali Mahmood Mohamed
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In 2015, Fadhel Al Sawlani suffered a devastating leg injury when he stepped on a mine while fighting the Houthis in Yemen. Yet the loss of a limb has not deterred him from returning to the front line.

Mr Al Sawlani, 32, who is from the southern province of Al Dhalea, was caught in a landmine blast while he was fighting to liberate Aden International Airport from Houthi rebels in mid-2015, just months after the war broke out.

"My left leg was completely smashed. The surgeons in Aden did several operations, trying to save it, but the wounds were too deep," he told The National.

After undergoing further surgery in Amman he was transferred to India, where the doctors told him they would have to amputate.

“This was extremely shocking for me,” Mr Al Sawlani said.

“I couldn’t accept the fact that I would be a man with one leg – the thought was killing me and broke my heart. I felt gloomy thinking of my future and couldn’t imagine that I would be able to return to the front again.”

He had previously suffered an injury to his hand fighting in Lahj province, not far from the southern port city of Aden, but had recovered quickly. With his leg amputated from the knee, however, he realised that he would have to adapt to a new way of life.

“My fellow fighters came to visit me when I got back to Aden after getting my artificial limb. Their words of sympathy were difficult to hear – many told me to stay safe at home, but my inner determination kicked in with the strength of a volcano,” he said.

Mr Al Sawlani undertook daily physiotherapy at home for a year and gradually got used to his new artificial limb and the limp that goes with it. But after hearing that the Houthis were trying to invade his home province of Al Dhalea in March this year, he decided to once again join the resistance.

“We drove the Houthi rebels out of [the city of] Qatabah and the Al Wael mountains. And, as you see, I am with my comrades again on the front line in Suleim, fighting face-to-face with the rebels,“ he said.

He is not the only one fighting the odds as well as the enemy in Al Dhalea. Saleh Ahmed Naser, 39, is Mr Al Sawlani’s neighbour in Sawlan village, in the eastern part of the province, and has been disabled since birth. His left leg is underdeveloped and he depends on a crutch to walk.

“I couldn’t stay at home and watch the Houthis wreak havoc in my country, so as soon as the summer vacation began I decided to join Fadhel and my other neighbours in the front,” he said.

Mr Naser works as a teacher.

“This is our land. We are here to defend it and our families. If we die, we will go to heaven because we are fighting an enemy who is trying to invade our country,” he said.

“God granted me and Fadhel a huge hidden power. We take part in any attack alongside our comrades; we run, climb mountains, carry our Kalashnikovs normally. We have the right to fight this aggressive enemy.”