RIYADH // Major combat operations in Yemen are nearing an end but the country will need long-term support from the Saudi-led coalition for stability and security, a coalition spokesman said on Wednesday.
Brig Gen Ahmed Al Assiri said that fighting has stopped along the border, where mine clearance operations have started to make the flow of aid supplies safe.
Saudi Arabia and other coalition members including the UAE began air strikes on March 26 last year against Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their allies, elite troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“In any military campaign you have phases,” Brig Gen Al Assiri said.
“Today, we are at the end of the major combat phase”, which must be followed by security stabilisation and finally reconstruction.
He said the coalition learnt from the United States, which pulled combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan before the countries were stable.
Nor does the coalition want to follow the example of Libya, where western forces helped topple dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 and then left it to slide into chaos.
“We don’t want that Yemen becomes another Libya, so we have to support the government, go with them step by step until they bring peace and security and stability for the people,” Big Gen Assiri said.
He said that in areas retaken from rebels, fighters get training and equipment to join Yemen’s army, “but it takes time”.
The coalition intervened on behalf of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi after the Houthis, a Zaidi Shiite group from Yemen’s north, seized control of large parts of the country including the capital, Sanaa.
Backed by air strikes and other coalition support, anti-rebel forces have retaken areas in Yemen’s south but Houthis still hold the capital.
The Houthis launched cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the intervention, with more than 90 people – both military and civilian – killed on the Saudi side of the frontier by shelling and in skirmishes.
Brig Gen Assiri said the border was essentially calm since a mediation effort by tribal leaders last week allowed aid to start moving into Yemen at the Alb crossing in Dhahran Al Janoub, northeast of Jazan city.
Meanwhile, a coalition air strike in the rebel-held Hajja province on Tuesday killed 33 rebel fighters, a tribal chief close the Houthis said on Wednesday.
“The fighters were riding in three vehicles at a military camp that was hit by three air raids,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse