Yemen Forces, fighting along the Saudi-led coalition, captured the city of Hodeida in Yemen on Thursday after deploying an aggressive assault on Wednesday.
Hodeida, a Red Sea port where most of the food and resources come in for the country, has been held by Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis since 2015.
Not only will there likely be heavy casualties from the on-going battle for control of the city, but there could potentially be a halt in aid being shipped in the port.
The majority of the population in Yemen is starving and the country is on the brink of famine. 600,000 are estimated to be living in the hostile Hodeida, but the United Nations (U.N.) said that 22 million Yemenis in total need humanitarian aid.
In a statement, the Houthi threatened commercial ships from continuing to deliver to the Red Sea port.
“The enemy has heightened the risk in the Red Sea with this new battle and is responsible for the consequences. We will not stand by idly in the face of the most dangerous foreign assault which threats millions of Yemenis,” said the Houthis.
In the last two days, only five vessels arrived with food and fuel in the port.
“If this continues, I can’t see how the port will remain operational,” said Suze van Meegan of the Norwegian Refugee Council to the Wall Street Journal. “This carries implications not just for the people of Hodeidah but for every single person in Yemen.”
The U.N. is desperately trying to keep the port open even after the Houthis’ recent threat.
“Hodeidah is the lifeline for northern Yemen,” said Lise Grande, the U.N.’s top humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, to the WSJ. “Any closure will almost certainly have an immediate and negative impact on the population. This is why we are saying that it has to remain open.”
The U.S. military has made it clear that it does not approve of the escalated offensive attack by the Yemen forces.
“The United States does not command, accompany, or participate in counter-Houthi operations or any hostilities other than those authorized against AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIS,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, Pentagon spokesman to CBS News on Wednesday night. “U.S. military support to our partners is always geared towards mitigating noncombatant casualties. Our support to the (Saudi) Coalition consists of aerial refueling to Coalition aircraft and intelligence support to assist our partners in securing their borders from cross-border attacks from the Houthis.”
The U.N. attempted to broker an emergency deal to stop the assault last-minute but was unsuccessful.
“We continue to use every opportunity to avoid military confrontation in Hodeidah,” said Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen. “I also call on the parties to exercise restraint and to give peace a chance.”
But the large battle has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, forcing residents in Hodeida to flee the city.
“People are scared. The warships are terrifying and warplanes are flying overhead all the time,” said a 22-year-old university student living near the port, to Reuters. “People are fleeing the city to the countryside, but for those with no relatives there or money, there is no escape.”
However, the Yemen forces are claiming the attack was the last resort to recapture the city.
The Yemen government “has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida” and that the “liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias.”
Author’s note: This war is escalating. Before this, the Saudi’s have been reasonably passive with Yemen attacks. But it’s important to note that they aren’t using Saudi forces, they are instead paying for soldiers to die for them. This will likely be bloody, especially depending on how much Iran gets involved. A fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran could escalate very quickly.