Yemen’s internationally-recognized president has decreed that armed groups fighting against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen merge with his national army units in an apparent effort to bring ground forces on his side together.
“It was not immediately clear how the order would translate on the front-lines in Yemen, where fierce, months-long fighting has pitted Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis and troops loyal to the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi,” reports The Associated Press (AP).
Moreover, a Saudi-led Sunni Gulf Arab coalition has been launching airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen since March. The Houthis have seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa and territory in the northern part of the country. They are reportedly seeking to expand their influence to southern Yemen.
Maj. Gen. Jafaar Mohammed Saad, Hadi’s adviser, explained that authorities are “working on implementing the [president’s] decision in the fastest time possible” to merge the “Popular Resistance” militias, which refers to the anti-Houthi armed groups.
Nevertheless, security and military officials expressed concerns about Hadi’s order, telling AP on condition of anonymity that it could pave the way for Sunni jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda to infiltrate the president’s military troops.
Other officials reportedly questioned Hadi’s intentions for issuing the order.
“The decision is an attempt by Hadi to win the favor of the Yemeni street, especially in the south,” Ahmed Dobhi, a political analyst in Yemen, told AP.
Yemen’s national army lacks cohesiveness. Some powerful military units are loyal to former president Saleh and have linked up with the Houthis, while others fight for Hadi.
Anonymous security officials told AP that local police stations suffering from a weak applicant pool are recruiting militia members in the strategic southern port city of Aden.
Last week, anti-Houthi fighters, backed by Saudi-led coalition forces and airstrikes, seized full control of Aden, a move that Reuters said turned the tide of the Yemen conflict in favor of Saudi Arabia.
The Sunni terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has established a presence in Yemen, leaving open the possibility that, like its counterpart al-Qaeda, it could also infiltrate Hadi’s armed forces now that the president has ordered anti-Houthi militias to integrate with the country’s army units.
“The Islamic State affiliate in Yemen has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in Sanaa targeting Shiites,” notes AP. “American officials initially expressed skepticism that the affiliate existed, as Yemen is also home to the world’s most dangerous al-Qaida offshoot.”