Why the Two Sides Are Fighting Fiercely for Control Over Hudaydah
Desperate for a decisive victory against the Houthis, the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has turned to the Trump Administration for more direct American support on the ground, as U.S./UK aerial refueling tanker, logistics and drone surveillance support for a vicious bombing campaign have all proven insufficient to subdue the Yemeni resistance. Now many in the Yemeni diaspora and observers of the war fear the last Saudi/UAE response to their persistent military failures and lethal cross border raids will be starving the Houthi areas into submission, aka democide through an engineered famine.
If Hudaydah falls, the Saudis and UAE generals are convinced, the Coalition will be able to dictate terms to the Houthis, or let them starve if they refuse. The Houthis are hurling reinforcements into the breach, inflicting serious losses on the attackers, including through anti-ship missile strikes on GCC coalition ships in the Red Sea. From Russia's perspective as a more or less neutral observer (MBS was a guest of honor sitting next to Putin at the World Cup opening match that Russia won 5-0 over Saudi Arabia), the ‘Stalingrad’ moment of the Yemen War has arrived.
Le Figaro Reports French Special Forces Participating in UAE Assault on Hudaydah, Houthis Claim to Have Captured Two French SpecOps
On Saturday one of the leading newspapers in France, Le Figaro, reported that French special forces were participating in the UAE assault on the Red Sea port. The report cited two French military sources and Reuters confirmed from a member of parliament that the EU/NATO member has boots on the ground in Yemen. The French Defense Ministry denied that it had any forces in the Hudaydah area, but the Houthis claimed -- without providing evidence -- that they captured two French soldiers.
The Battle in Regional Context: What Happens Next After Hudaydah?
The fall of Hudaydah to the attacking Saudi/UAE forces and their Yemeni mercenary allies is by no means a foregone conclusion. But the Houthis will be hard pressed to hold out if American and French special forces begin directing air strikes on the city's airport, which the UAE falsely claim to have secured as of Monday, and against the city's defenders. However, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is creating international pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis to allow food aid to flow through the port after they capture it. The UAE's occupation of Socotra Island with the evident intent to establish a permanent military base and commercial port at the mouth of the strategic Bab al Mandeb strait has also raised eyebrows, though no serious opposition in Western capitals.
On June 11, The Hill reported a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) had sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The letter called for Mattis to provide Congress with a transparent accounting of U.S. military involvement in the conflict with the Houthis, not just special operations targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But there are no indications that anyone in Congress has the votes to demand U.S. troops be withdrawn from Yemen and pass a resolution cutting off American arms and parts to the Saudi led coalition.
With oil prices sliding on news Russia is increasing its cooperation with the Saudis, and tensions between the U.S. and Iran seemingly decreasing, it's hard to see how the Yemen conflict could contribute to a broader scenario of regional confrontation. However, the Houthis have demonstrated resourcefulness in producing indigenous adaptations of Soviet and Chinese missiles which the Trump Administration led by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has contended originated in Iran. If an American or French warship is struck by an alleged Houthi missile off the Red Sea coast, or a U.S. special forces unit suffers a mini-'Black Hawk Down' style ambush by the Houthis with casualties, then this could provide a pretext for more direct U.S. military involvement in the war.