Will Developments in Afghanistan Motivate the Houthis to Overtake Marib?


Sun, 15-08-2021 07:14 PM, Aden

South24 | Analytics 

Cities and states in Afghanistan are crumbling like knots in the hands of the extremist Taliban, amid questions about the “secret” of this rapid fall of areas supposedly under the control of the Afghan army, which was funded by the United States and Western countries with the latest military equipment, for years. Experts say, this may stimulate areas experiencing civil wars in other parts of the world, such as Yemen.

US President Joe Biden said, on Saturday, that " One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country." [1] Biden probably wanted to justify the step of the United States abandoning Afghanistan and leaving it alone in the midst of a civil war, but other religious groups in the world, such as the Iran-backed Houthis, may consider it an appropriate signal to expand hostilities in the poor Asian country (Yemen), which has been at war for 7 years.

"The US' abandonment of its Afghan allies might motivate the Houthis to make another move on Marib," says Andrew Korybko, a US political expert based in Moscow.

In a comment to South24, Korybko adds, "The [Houthi] group sees that Biden is building upon Trump's strategy of letting America's regional allies largely fend for themselves. He also put pressure on Saudi Arabia in Yemen ever since entering office by suspending the US' military support operations there."

On February 16, the Biden administration officially announced the removal of the Houthi group from the list of terrorist designations, and had taken steps against Saudi Arabia, whose forces lead the coalition that has intervened in Yemen since 2015.

Washington is busy

The religious movement controls most of the geography of North Yemen, after the government forces were expelled from many areas, while its forces are engaged in fierce fighting on the outskirts of the oil-rich city, Marib. 

"From the Houthis' perspective, the US might not do much to stop them if they make another move on Marib." Korybko told South24. "America is too distracted with completing its panicked Saigon-like withdrawal from Kabul to care much about Yemen right now. That doesn't mean that the [Houthi] group will succeed, but just that it might see a window of opportunity right now to exploit," he added,

The English Iranian newspaper "Al-Waght News" has hinted that the Houthis intend to complete the control of the Northern city. According to the newspaper, "the liberation of the strategic city is nearing its end, as the head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammad Ali al-Houthi, said that Ansar Allah [the Houthis] and the Yemeni army are now on the doorstep of the city." [2]

For the Houthis, the newspaper says, "The ability to control Marib, more than anything else, represents a success in capturing the last stronghold of the opposition in North." This is reflected not only from the important location of Marib, "which links many Yemeni trade lines", but also that it "has the largest power station in Yemen and a wealth of natural resources, especially with 90% of its oil and gas resources."

Marib will give the Houthis in Sanaa all the resources to settle the financial problems in the areas under their control, according to the newspaper. For Hadi, the loss of Marib means a fatal blow to his political and military conditions, especially at a time when the STC is building its strength and mobilizing its resources in South.

"The outcome of that battle will therefore depend on the combination of coalition and local forces.," says political analyst Korybko.

Because, according to Korybko, the US does not seem interested in getting directly involved [in Yemen], “especially since it eschewed further direct involvement in Afghanistan where its forces are now under threat from the Taliban. It's therefore very unlikely that they'll do anything significant to aid their Arab allies in Yemen if they come under attack there."

With the news reporting the entrance of Taliban fighters the Afghan capital, Kabul, and their delegation arriving at the Afghan presidential headquarters,coming from Qatar, former US officials at the Ministry of Defense criticized the Biden administration's move to withdraw from the Asian country, and blamed the US administration for the situation in Afghanistan, and warned President Biden that he "will soon know how important it is when it is controlled by the extremists who will give the terrorists a safe haven." [3]

Government concerns

The Afghan scenario is not entirely new to the military situation in Yemen. The Houthi group had previously overthrown the Northern regions of Yemen within a few weeks in 2014, and the group ended its control over the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, amid the complicity of the formal government forces of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the current pro-islamists (Islah party) Yemeni Vice President, Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.

However, the Yemeni government, residing in Riyadh, doubled its fears of the fall of its last strongholds in North, and consequently, the elimination of its presence in South, where it lacks a popular incubator. On Saturday, Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani warned of the "bleak fate and scenario" that Afghanistan has reached calling on all political forces to "unite" to resolve the battle against the Houthis. [4]

Recently, Taliban took control of more than 20 provincial capitals in Afghanistan after clashing with government forces. While the Houthis took control of most parts of North. During the past weeks, the Houthis intensified their military operations in Al-Bayda, in the center of the country, and were able to control large areas in the strategic border governorate with South Yemen. [5]

The Iranian newspaper "Al-Waght News" saw that if the Yemeni government accepted the conditions of Sanaa due to the Houthi military pressure, and the success of the Omani mediation efforts. Under this scenario, “By extracting concessions from the other side, Sanaa could somehow neutralize economic pressures, widen the division in the opposing camp, as well as enhance its legitimacy at home and abroad as the legitimate government in Yemen.”

Washington and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, under the pretext of fighting "Al-Qaeda" and reducing terrorist threat and overthrowing the Taliban regime, following the organization's attacks on the United States on the 11th of September. After all US and NATO forces left the country's military bases, warnings escalated that there was a "high possibility of Al-Qaeda and ISIS re-emergence". [6]

In Yemen, Washington is betting on the Houthis' "tiredness" from fighting in Marib and back to the negotiating table. The US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, appeared recently, confident that "the Houthis are not victorious in Marib," criticizing Iran's unserious role in bringing peace to Yemen. [7] Will the United States bet, too, on disturbing Iran on its eastern borders with the Sunni extremist group taking control of Afghanistan? Knowing that Iran was a safe haven for Al-Qaeda leaders, as American officials say themselves?! 

Founder and Chairman of South24 Center for News & Studies

Photo: A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer