Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen, launches coalition op against Houthi rebels

Saudi Arabian forces, joined by nine other countries, have launched a military operation in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels, the Saudi ambassador to the US said. The offensive, which started with airstrikes, will also involve “other military assets.”

According to Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the military operation in Yemen started at 7 p.m. EST (11 p.m. GMT).

Obama ordered support to Saudi-led op, UN still ‘checking details’

US President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-led military operations in Yemen, the White House said in a statement, confirming that Washington had close communication with Hadi, the Saudis and other GCC states prior to the launch of the military operation.

“While US forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate US military and intelligence support,” the statement said.

Moreover, the White House urged the Houthis to immediately halt “destabilizing military actions” and to return to political dialogue with the deposed Yemeni government.

Al Arabiya reported that warplanes of the Royal Saudi Air Force bombed positions of Yemen’s Houthi militia, targeting their air defenses.

The Saudi-led coalition has declared Yemeni airspace a “restricted zone.” Ships in the region have also been urged not to approach Yemen’s ports due to the ongoing military operation.

More than 20 people have reportedly died and over 30 others were injured following Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes in Yemen, Sputnik news agency cited local security and medical sources as saying.

The majority of the strikes around Sanaa hit residential areas located near the capital’s international airport. Government buildings and the airport were also hit during the offensive.

Reports from the ground indicate that Saudi forces have bombed an office belonging to Houthi rebels in Sanaa’s Jiraf area. A Houthi-run TV channel reported dozens of civilian casualties following airstrikes north of Sanaa.

Residents said that warplanes targeted the capital’s airport, according to Reuters.

Houthis used heavy anti-aircraft fire to respond to the bombing.

Another warplane attack was said to have been launched on Sanaa’s Dulaimi military airbase. Al-Jubair told Al Jazeera that Houthi fighters are in control of Yemeni’s ballistic and heavy weaponry and could be taking over the country’s air force.

Reports citing Yemeni security services said four Sukhoi jets stationed at the Dulaimi military airbase were destroyed in airstrikes. Meanwhile, an Al Arabiya report claimed that Saudi-led strikes destroyed the airbase along with several arsenals, as well as taking out most of the rebels’ air defenses.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait issued a joint statement saying that they “decided to repel Houthi militias, Al-Qaeda and ISIS (Islamic State) in the country.” The Gulf states said they were responding to a “major threat” to the stability of the region, saying that their cause is to “repel Houthi aggression” in Yemen.

Al-Jubeir said the 10-country coalition launched the campaign “to protect and defend the legitimate government” of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after his appeal to intervene.

Hadi’s aide has revealed that the president is “in high spirits” and has remained at his Aden base in the south of Yemen. “The president...thanks Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan, and all countries in the region,” the director of Hadi's office, Mohammed Marem, told Reuters. The offensive has “restored people's determination” to fight against the Houthis, he said.

Saudi Arabia is planning to commit 100 warplanes and 150,000 soldiers to the Yemen offensive, according to Al Arabiya. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan are also willing to contribute aircrafts, while Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, and Sudan want to contribute to ground operations.

Egypt is providing political and military support for the operation, the country’s state media said. Cairo is prepared to take part in air, naval and ground operations if necessary, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has announced.

Media reports said that Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan are also part of the coalition and have offered their support for military operation in Yemen.

While the Saudi envoy insisted Washington only “consulted” Riyadh, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that America has been supporting the military operation in an unspecified way.

Houthi leaders have in turn branded the Saudi offensive as “aggression” and warned that it will drag the entire Gulf region into conflict.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia moves heavy arms to border with chaos-stricken Yemen

“There is an aggression underway on Yemen and we will confront it valiantly,” a member of the Houthi political office, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, told Al Jazeera. “Military operations will drag the region to a wide war.”

Meanwhile, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told TASS that the UN is aware of Saudi Arabia launching a military operation in Yemen and is looking into more details. Just a few hours before the operation, Haq told journalists that the UN does not believe in military actions to resolve the conflict in Yemen.

Before the launch of the offensive in Yemen, Houthi militants claimed to have captured the southern seaport of Aden, President Hadi’s stronghold. The fighters said the city was under their control and the president’s supporters were being arrested.

The rebels have announced a 20 million riyal (US$100,000) reward for Hadi’s capture, after alleging that he fled the country, Lebanon-based Al-Manar TV reported.

In August 2014, Houthi rebels moved in from the north and demanded economic and political reforms. In September, they seized key state installations in Sanaa.

As Houthis took command of the capital last month, the US embassy closed its operations in Sanaa, while the two rival governments in the north and south have continued to compete for power. Last weekend, Shiite rebels seized Yemen’s third largest city Taiz.