Fighting over Yemen’s Maarib began in February and has continued to rage. From the start this was expected to be a game-changing battle, and now, over half a year later, analysts are again heralding it as the “battle for the future of Yemen.”
While reports out of the pro-Saudi media are that in recent weeks almost everyone killed in Maarib fighting was a Houthi, the analysts note that the Houthis now control most of Maarib Province and are fast approaching the provincial capital. The government could keep bragging about its wins right up until a calamitous loss.
Maarib has been made vastly important by months of fighting. Already touted as a symbolically huge territory, it has only been made more so by being at the center of so many battles. Its economic value may be overstated, but it’s a strategic location, and could be the start of a momentum shift in the war. Maarib was the last territory in historical north Yemen held by the pro-Saudi forces.
The expectation is that if this leads to a peace negotiation, the Houthis would be in a very strong position at the table, with the pro-Saudi side controlling an ever-shrinking territory, and South Yemen already crumbling in the face of economic collapse and a growing movement among southern separatist movements. It would benefit them to find their way out of this war,and they’ll be able to offer little in return.
The US similarly could use a way out of its entanglement in all of this, with Congress growing discontent about Yemen. A US drone spying on the fighting was shot down near Maarib. That’s not a big loss, but a loss.