Fighter jets are striking rebel targets in Yemen for a second consecutive day, as part of a Saudi Arabia-led regional effort to oust the Shi’ite Houthi group that has taken over much of the country.
Riyadh, March 27, 2015.- Coalition warplanes pounded military bases and other rebel-held targets in and around the capital, Sana’a, Friday, according to officials and witnesses. Military officials also said air strikes targeted the northern province of Saada, home to the Houthi rebels.
Saudi military officials have declared the first phase of the bombing campaign to be “successful.” But an allied ground offensive may also be necessary, said Saudi defense ministry adviser Ahmad Bin Hassan Asiri.
“Right now at this stage there is no planning for any ground operation, but if the situation needs it then Saudi ground troops and the allied forces are ready to counter any aggression of any kind,” he said.
A rapidly assembled coalition of 10 countries, including five Gulf monarchies, is trying to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis and reinstall Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
Iran, which denies funding and training the Shi’ite Houthis, has slammed the Saudi-led offensive as a dangerous step that will worsen the situation in Yemen.
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the airstrikes have to stop and that they will only cause the loss of lives. He called for dialogue and national reconciliation in Yemen, instead of making it more difficult for Yemenis to come together.
Yemen’s acting Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin said the airstrikes should weaken the Shi’ite Houthi rebels. He said he hopes the operation accomplishes its goals quickly and that it ends soon.
Pakistan – Saudi Arabia’s longtime ally – said Friday it has not yet decided to join the coalition. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told parliament Islamabad is ready to defend Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity “at any cost,” but does not want to involve itself in a sectarian war.
Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi on Thursday slammed Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States, which is offering “logistical and intelligence support” to the offensive.
“The foolish, stupid, unjust, oppressive and arrogant Saudi regime has gambled [on the support of] America and gambled on some other regimes, which it paid to buy their support,” the rebel leader said.
Houthi officials say at least 18 people were killed and 24 wounded in the Thursday airstrikes. There was no immediate word on casualties from the Friday bombings.
Yemen has sunk into violence and chaos since a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012.
The Houthis, who are now allied with Saleh, have taken over the capital and have battled Sunnis and various tribes as they try to advance throughout the rest of the country.
The rebel advance prompted Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee the country earlier this week. His location was not known until Thursday when he reappeared in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.