Yemen: Government Accuses Houthis of Recruiting African ‘Mercenaries’

Yemeni Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Nasir al-Tahiri is accusing the Shiite Houthi rebels that have run the official government out of the nation’s capital of hiring African “mercenaries” to fight in the nation’s ongoing civil war.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, a Saudi news outlet, al-Tahiri asserted that the government — based in Aden since their expulsion from Sanaa — had evidence that the Houthis had begun paying citizens of African countries to travel to Yemen and fight against the official government. “Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Nasir al-Tahiri said the move by the Houthis and forces allied to to the toppled Ali Abdullah Saleh was to buttress their weakening fronts at the capital Sanaa and the northwestern governorate of Saada,” Al Arabiya noted.

The accusation follows claims by the official government that also among the Houthi ranks are members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese-Iranian terrorist organization. Both the Houthi rebels and Hezbollah are Shiite Muslims; the official government of Yemen is allied with Sunni stronghold Saudi Arabia. “The government has documents and circumstantial evidence that prove the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement in the war waged by the Houthi militias against the Yemeni people,” government spokesman Rajeh Badi said this week. The official government is claiming it will take its case against Hezbollah for “hostile actions against legality and the Arab coalition” to the United Nations. Saudi Arabia is fighting alongside the official government with a number of Arab allies in the region.

The United Nations spent much of 2015 attempting to bring rebel Houthi leadership to the table with the official government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The UN succeeded in implementing a ceasefire in December that rapidly disintegrated after being ignored by both sides.

The Yemen war has created fertile ground for violence unrelated to the Sunni-Shiite government power struggle. Al-Qaeda now controls more of the country than the Houthis and the Islamic State combined, as the latter tries to impose itself in remote areas out of the control of either side of the war. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, is widely considered the largest and most formidable branch of the terrorist organization.

In addition to foreigners flooding in to join al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the claim that Hezbollah fighters and African mercenaries are working with the Houthi insurgency, numerous reports have indicated that both sides in the war have relied on Afghan migrants to fight on their behalf. In January, Afghan Khaama Press reported that families in Afghanistan had begun protesting that their relatives, traveling to Saudi Arabia for their Hajj pilgrimage, had been forced to fight in Yemen after disappearing. “A man whose relative has been deployed to Yemen two months ago told BBC Persian that six to seven members of his family have left for Yemen after visiting Saudi Arabia for Umra Hajj pilgrimage,” Khaama reported, noting that it was unclear for whom they were believed to be fighting.

The reports mirror evidence that the Shiite government of Iran has recruited Afghan refugees to fight in Syria on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Civil War has also become fertile ground for the growth of terrorist organizations, as Hezbollah has sent jihadists to fight for Assad, while the Islamic State has carved out a territory surrounding the city of Raqqa that it deems its “capital.”


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