Naham,Sanaa – 27 December 2018: Nihm District in Sana’a is a direct confrontation front with the Houthi militia; We traveled some 120 kilometers to reach it from Marib.
Naham is the first, most important and largest directorate of Sana'a governorate. It is the eastern gateway to the capital and its nearest front. It width extends to more than 80 kilometers from the outskirts of the governorate of Marib to the outskirts of Al-Jouf, and along this distance you see huge mountain chains: Al-Manara, Nihm, Yaman and Hanshan.
They are highly rugged mountainous areas, and perhaps this nature is one of the main reasons for prolonging the battle. As for the lower areas, they are heavily mined, while the Yemeni National Army is located along this distance, and there are numerous checkpoints.
On the sides of the road you find a high mountain range called Al-Farda, which is about 15 kilometers from the first front line. We reached the location of the seventh Military Zone Command, where the four-wheel-drive cars were replaced by Chase cars. The team accompanying us told us that the road would become more rugged for a distance of more than 17 kilometers, until we reach the front, and we must use the Chase cars to cut the remaining distance.
We moved to the other car until we reached the lines of contact on the front. Once there, you feel the atmosphere of the hot war; you hear guns going off and see the hit and run from both sides.
Right there, on the front, we conducted a series of interviews and we learnt a lot of the heroic deeds of Yemenis in their quest to liberate their lands and eliminate the Houthis.
On the front, you see scenes of deployed soldiers, each in a specific location that he doesn’t leave and also doesn’t leave his weapon. They have a small spot, no more than a few meters, surrounded by stones and covered with old blankets, Al-Dushmeh, where they live and sleep on the front. Some of them left a wife and children, others are responsible for a father in his old age or a mother needing care, but they left their families and stayed in the front.
Among those recruited is Ayman Mohammed, who is married and has three children. He has not seen them for months and confirms that he will not leave his place on the front before Yemen is fully liberated. We also met Abdul Aziz Hassan, who left his mother and did not consider marriage before the liberation of Sana'a. He insists on staying till they achieve victory, saying: "We will continue to fight the enemy whatever happens. The enemy is much weaker than before."
He also pointed out that the exchange of fire takes place day and night.
Conscript Anwar al-Yusuf drives an ambulance to save the injured on the front, "I have been serving here for two years and have been fired at by the Houthis, but I have never thought of retreating from my service. On the contrary, the firing of bullets has increased our determination to complete the battle."
Anas ... fights despite the disability
Conscript Anas Abdullah did not only leave his family for more than two years to fight the Houthis, but insisted on continuing on the front, although he was injured in one of the battles which led to his disability. He refused to go home and leave the battlefield. When we approached him, he said, "My conscience has not allowed me to be comfortable with my family and my brothers here are fighting for me on the front. I preferred to stay to help them even if I cannot hold the arms anymore, but I can help in different ways”. He continued saying: “I am a conscript in the national army since 2009 and participated in 2016 in Serwah battle, which is still going on till now on the border of Marib. I was shot at that time in the spinal cord which caused my disability”.
Anas continued, "I did not want to stay in the house and my brothers on the fronts are scarifying their lives for us and I decided to stay here. Here I can breathe and feel happy and confident. Here is my place and I will not leave it until we win." He has left his family and wife since the beginning of the battle. They understand and appreciate that. I told them I will return to you only when Yemen is fully liberated."
"The Houthis destroyed the houses and threatened the security of the children," he concluded.
Conscript Mohammed Ali: I have not seen my family for two and a half years
Conscript, Muhammad Ali, from Hodeidah, took part in the battle of Serwah and was wounded in the battle of Naham. He told us, "We fight to uphold the word of Allah. The Houthis are ruthless in their war, because they have missiles, mortars, shells and mines, but we insist on continuing. During one of the battles here, I was shot in the leg. During the war we were seeing the children recruited by the Houthis, and in their pockets they had unknown pills."
"I have been fighting for two and a half years and I don’t see my family, but I will not retreat until we win." He stressed that “the coalition countries led by Saudi Arabia stand with Yemen and we salute them not only on the military support, but they even help in the treatment. The conscripts who are injured travel with the support of the coalition to receive treatment in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. They also distributed food baskets to people and they supplied many areas with electricity. So we thank them."
Mohammed describes the sufferings of the people of Hodeidah, saying, "For three years there is no electricity. Since the Houthis entered they spread all over the streets with patrols. They are hiding and watching secretly. People do not go out at night. They attack the homes and women. They take the children from their homes from the age of 10 years. No one can speak and if anyone speaks they kill him. This happened in our neighborhood in Guleel in Hodeidah. They shot one of the people and his mother because he refused to accept what they were doing."
“We have passed the hardest stage and approach the conclusion of the battle,” said the commander of the seventh region of Naham.
“Ninety percent of the area of the directorate is under the control of the National Army and Iran supports the Houthis with sophisticated weapons,” said Major General Nasser Al Deebani.
The interview with the commander of the seventh region in Naham, Major General Nasser Al Deebani revealed more details about the military situation of the battle of “Naham”, and what the Yemeni army needs to win the battle.
First, when did the battle begin in Naham and what is the scope of work, and what is the role of the seventh region?
The battle started from March 21, 2015, and continues until now. The seventh area extends from the borders of Dhala, Albayda and Hodaydah borders, and from the borders of Al Abd and Aden and until Sana’a. What separates Nihm and the capital is the directorate of Arhab, then Bani Hashish, the secretariat of the capital, and after the mountain of Al-Samaa we are in Sana’a. But the battle of Nihm needs specific arrangements and military plans so as not to hurt any citizen in Sana’a.
Tell us about the military in Nihm, which you consider the most important and most difficult battle in Yemen.
We have passed the most difficult stage in the battle, which was on the peaks of the rugged mountains. Our forces are now on the peaks of the mountains of Al-Manara, overlooking the capital Sana'a from the left, and from the right overlooking Al Geel directorate towards Al-Jouf governorate. We took a part from Arhab directorate, which separates Naham and the capital, meaning that about 90 percent of the area of the directorate of Naham became under the control of the National Army. The proportion of control increased more with the ongoing filed progress during the past days and then control of the whole of Arhab and afterwards we are in the heart of Sana’a.
Naham is important because it is the closest to the capital. We are on the outskirts of the capital Sana'a, about 18 to 22 kilometers, a distance ranging according to the locations of our forces.
As for the fact that the battle is difficult, this is due to two factors: the Iranian support of the Houthi forces with all the sophisticated weapons, such as guided and anti-tank weapons, as well as media support. Iranian support extends to the use of Afghan militias in Iraq and elsewhere. They support the Houthis in absolute terms, as a political party and a religious system opposing the legitimate authority. The Houthis seized the resources of the National Army at the time of storming Sana'a and Aden; they seized the equipment and tanks, while the Yemeni army began to reconstitute itself from scratch until it developed with the support of the Arab coalition forces.
Can we say that the national army was able to build itself fully or does it still need support?
The army now consists of five military zones, the first, second, fifth, sixth and fourth, and each region consists of several brigades, but not all of our forces are participating in the fighting. What we lack is simple rattles related to resources, but the Yemeni fighter is well prepared and has a determination to complete the battle to the extent that half of the injured, or about 17 injured, participate in the front lines of the fighting based on their will. On the Manara Mountains there are handicapped, taking part in communications services, tanks, artillery and field artillery, and they refuse to receive medical care in the houses of the recruits.
How do you evaluate the Egyptian role in the battle of Yemen? Yemenis and Egyptians have strong historical relations.
Yemen was one of the founders of the Arab League and has a role in major issues. The Egyptian army provided much to Yemen and played a major role in stabilizing the republican regime in Yemen in 1962. Hundreds were martyred, and the army continued here in Yemen until 1967. During this period, it played a major role in stabilizing the republican system in several governorates. Many of our leaders are graduates of Egyptian military institutes and academies, which contributed to the development of military knowledge among the Yemeni military leaders. Today, Egypt supports us through its position with the Arab coalition.
Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Yemeni Army: The end of the Houthis approached
“Egypt played a major role in rebuilding our armed forces and opened the doors of colleges and scientific institutes to train cadres and qualify officers,” stated Major General Saleh Al-Zindani.
Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Yemeni Armed Forces, General Saleh Al-Zindani, talks about the situation and preparations of the Yemeni army and the equipment it possesses and its adequacy for the war and the future of the war in general in Yemen:
How equipped is the national army after the several rehabilitation stages it went through after the coup?
We have worked on more than one axis, especially the rebuilding of new cadres instead of the ones we have lost. In this regard, Egypt has played a major role. It opened the doors of colleges and scientific institutes to train cadres and Yemeni officers. And when the coalition to support legitimacy was formed Egypt was one of the first countries that participated and supported Yemeni President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi.
More than three years after “Al Hazm Storm” how do you evaluate the results?
Before the storm, the militia controlled Yemen and the main joints of the state. There were collapses in the camps, with the help of the military betrayals of the Yemeni army at that time. Now the legitimate authority has recovered 85 percent of the Yemeni lands. Without the support of the coalition, we would not have achieved this. Saudi Arabia received the Yemeni president when he left Aden after hitting the Palace of Maasheeq.
What is the current situation of the Yemeni army in terms of cadres and armament?
We are now preparing the military units, and we are working within the operational division of the army, i.e. the military zones, and each zone includes a number of governorates. In this context, we have reconstituted the military units, and the leaders of those units are now in Aden instead of those who were present in Sana'a, such as the Air forces, naval forces, naval defense and ground forces. But there are also units in formation till now.
The problem of under arming is the biggest problem facing the army, and this is being developed, because the support of the coalition is focused on the fronts because it is the neediest. We focus on the preparation of cadres and the re-establishment of military institutions and the training of fighters within the camps, and the problem of armament will gradually improve.
And on the ground, what are the military conditions on the different fronts?
The army is strong and the evidence is that it has made progress in the places where there are battles so far, the most important of which is Hodeidah. The Yemeni army arrived at Hays, northwest of Mokha in the western coast, which means we are on the outskirts of Hodeidah. We all know that it is the governorate which represents a lifeline to the Houthis. Through which they get various supplies of food and armament, and all that is smuggled from Iran, arrive through the port of Hodeidah, especially after they left Aden.
Also in Naham, we reached the outskirts of Arhab which is the most important directorate in Sana'a, and arriving there means a great victory. There are also significant developments in the front of Sarwah, and conditions have become much better in the fronts in Taiz, because the popular resistance there is large, and we controlled the majority of directorates there.
Have you seen Iranian weapons in the Houthi battles?
Yes, and it is sufficient to know that the rockets, which were in large quantities in the Yemeni army, which was one of the strongest Arab armies before the coup, are Russian-made (the R-17 Scud range of 270 km, the Katyusha, and Luna M, with a range of 70 kilometers). What we see in the battles with the Houthis are different types compared to those that were in the army, with a very wide range, and all of which are Iranian-made (the missiles that landed on Saudi Arabia are an example).
What are the most difficult military battles fought by the Yemeni army against the Houthis?
Aden was one of the most difficult battles and the most important. It took four months and was a difficult period. It is the nature of the Houthis if they were defeated to resort to indiscriminate bombardment of residential neighborhoods using Katyusha and shells, which left many as victims.
What are the most difficult battles that are still ongoing in Yemen, and in your opinion when will the battle of Naham end?
The most difficult current battle is Taiz, although things are better than before because control is no longer as complete as it used to be, supplies now reach the people and most importantly, the popular resistance continues and the people of Taiz insist on the continuation of the resistance. We are working there through several axes which are the resistance, the army and the coalition.
Among the important battles are those in Serwah front in the direction of Marib, and the battles of Naham front of Sana'a. The army controls large areas of these fronts, despite the roughness of the region. Now the National Army is on the outskirts of Arhab directorate of Sana'a. The arrival of the National Army to this directorate will change the balance of power in Yemen significantly for the benefit of legitimacy. Sana'a’s Airport is on the outskirts of Arhab, and it leads us to the heart of the capital which facilitates toppling of the secretariat of the capital, and this way we will win the solidarity and support of the tribes.
Is it possible to say that the battle of Sana'a approached?
The progress on more than one front in Yemen, even in the west coast, although it extends for about 300 kilometers, confirms that the end is very close.
“Naham is the most important battle fought by the National Army,” says the Governor of Sana’a.
“We are advancing from all sides and the Houthis are trying to complicate matters by using civilians as human shields, turning houses into warehouses for weapons, explosives and ammunition and pushing children into the battle,” explained Major General Abdul Qawi Sherif.
The Governor of Sana'a, Maj. Gen. Abdul Qawi Sherif, explained the importance of the battle of Naham , stressing that it is the most important battle. He pointed out that Nihm is parallel to the directorate of Arhab, the northern gate of the capital. Together they make up one third of Sana'a governorate. With its important strategic location the liberation of Naham and then Arhab is a declaration of the liberation of Sana’a from the hands of the Houthi militia and of concluding the final battle “in favor of legitimacy”.
What is the importance of Naham for you?
Naham is about 25 kilometers away from the secretariat of Sana'a, and its area exceeds 1841 square kilometers. It is characterized by rugged mountain ranges overlooking the capital directly. Naham is the largest directorate in Sana'a. It is bordered on the north by the directorate of Arhab, which is affiliated to the secretariat of the capital, and bordered to the west by the capital Sana'a, so success here means access to the secretariat of the capital.
Describe the military situation on the front?
The legitimate forces have so far made great progress on this front, despite the roughness of the terrain, which makes it a very difficult battle, but the determination of our sons in the army is what leads us to victory. Every day the enemy recedes further. There is progress from all sides, from the coast of Hodeidah and from Farda and towards Saada and Al-Jawf, the National Army managed to control several sites, including the villages of Al-Hanyshah, Al-Jameeda, Al Haj, Sad Bani Bareq, Al-Na'ila and the mountains overlooking Daboaa area, as well as fifteen sites, including Al-Shabaka mountains, Al-Slat mountains, and the hills overlooking Beet Abu Hatem village.
What difficulties do you face in a battle of Naham?
The battle in Nihm started a year and nine months ago, and we certainly have difficulties. Besides the geographical nature of the place, the Houthis are trying to complicate things by being in places where there are civilians, thus hindering the progress of the legitimate forces because we are concerned with preserving the lives of civilians in the first place. The Houthis have displaced some citizens from their homes and used them as warehouses for weapons, explosives and ammunition. Some citizens are still there and the militias use them as human shields. They also push the children into battles and we avoid harming any child.
Are there any signs of an imminent resolution of the battle of Naham ?
The completion of the liberation of Naham is very imminent, which is evident from the field progress and the great control of the national army over large parts in a record time. The forces are significantly advancing on the ground on the left and right fronts, meanwhile the coupists are fleeing towards Sana'a.
It is said that during the clashes you found Iranian weapons with the Houthis, how do you comment?
Yes, they have Iranian weapons and missiles even the mines are made under the supervision of an Iranian team of experts, but we remain stronger than them with the determination of our army and the support of the Arab coalition forces.
And for you, what’s after Naham?
The battles after Naham will be much easier and not with the same geographical complexity that delay the resolution of the battle and leads to slow field progress. And the coup militias are well aware of this and are exerting maximum efforts to defend what is left of the directorate Naham. We are cutting off any supplies coming from the southern regions to Sana'a, which will speed up the process of liberating the capital.
What about the current situation in Sana'a?
Yemenis live in oppression, poverty and hunger. They live in a large prison in Sana’a. We appeal through you to all the organizations of the international community to stand with the suffering Yemeni people by providing medical support and accommodation. Large numbers flee from Sana'a to the liberated governorates such as Marib, Aden and Hadramout because of the deliberate killing, marginalization, and the black market.
Also with the accelerated transformation of the battle route on the outskirts of the capital Sana'a, the coup militias have exhausted all their options, including trying to recruit fighters by force, especially children, and also blackmailing merchants and citizens to pay more royalties to fund their "war effort". The fall of the militias and their defeat, as the Yemenis see, is the natural fate after all the unprecedented crimes and violations they committed.
Do the Houthis prevent the delivery of relief supplies to Yemenis?
The King Salman Center and the Alliance countries offer a lot, but the Houthis are the ones who receive this relief aid and sell it on the black market.
This article is part of a series of articles on Yemen by Eman Hanna.Hanna has taken a 30-day trip to monitor the suffering of the people during the war