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Military & Security Fighting Escalates on Multiple Fronts

March witnessed increased clashes on fronts across the country, with Houthi forces making gains in southern Marib and along the Al-Bayda-Shabwa border. Heavy fighting between Houthi and mainly Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces in Al-Dhalea claimed dozens of casualties. Southern Hudaydah continued to see clashes between the Houthis and the Joint Forces, during which Houthi forces carried out regular explosives-laden drone attacks. In late March, Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan, Minister of Defense Mohsen al-Daeri, and Chief of Staff Saghir bin Aziz survived two separate attacks on their convoys while traveling in Taiz governorate. The government accused the Houthis of carrying out the attacks.

Houthi Seize Territory in Southern Marib’s Harib District

Fighting between Houthi forces and units from the UAE-backed Saba Axis of the Giants Brigades saw the latter make gains in southern Marib over the last month. Between March 2 and March 17, the sides clashed in the Mala’a area and on the Yahmoum front in the west of the district, resulting in dozens of casualties among Saba Axis forces. Houthi commanders in the Wadi Qarn area of neighboring Al-Abdiyah district mobilized reinforcements to the Ablah front on the Al-Abidyah-Harib district border. On March 18, Houthi forces captured Jabal Buwara, a strategic vantage point overlooking Harib city in southern Marib. The advance was facilitated by the Houthis’ opening of secondary roads through the mountains west of Harib. On March 22, Giants Brigades reinforcements arrived at the front and prevented further advances.

Dozens of families were displaced in Harib district due to the fighting, fleeing to Al-Souq, Jarada, Darb al-Maareef, and Hilweh, as well as to the Marib al-Wadi district and Marib city. On March 24, residents made a distress call to the Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Marib, saying that mobile phone communications and internet services were cut off and exit roads closed, according to an IDP and community activist. In particular, civilians near the Sharq, Arak, and Wadhou al-Salem areas were isolated and vulnerable as a result of the clashes.

Houthis Push into Shabwa from Al-Bayda

The border region between Al-Bayda and Shabwa governorates also saw an escalation in clashes. On March 4, Houthi forces engaged UAE-backed Giants Brigade forces on the Aqabat al-Qantha front, along the border of Al-Bayda’s northeastern Naaman district and Shabwa’s northwestern Bayhan district, according to local sources. Fighting was reported again on March 10, as Houthi forces clashed with Giants Brigades forces and STC-affiliated Shabwa Defense forces on the Al-Makhdara front, along the border of Naaman district and Shabwa’s northwestern Ain district. Fighting expanded to the Ghabr front along the border of Al-Bayda’s Natea district and Shabwa’s northwestern Bayhan district on March 12, where a soldier in Shabwa Defense forces was killed in a Houthi drone attack.

Fighting along the border expanded further as Houthi forces clashed with Shabwa Defense forces near the Im-Qwah area, between Al-Bayda’s eastern Maswarah district and Shabwa’s western Merkhah al-Ulya district, on March 17. The fighting was sparked when Shabwa Defense forces shelled an excavator Houthi forces were using to pave a new road overlooking Merkhah al-Ulya district. Following clashes, drone attacks, and the arrival of Houthi reinforcements, Houthi forces seized control of the strategic Jabal Makhshash mountain on the Shabwa side of the border on March 26. In response, Shabwa Defense forces and Giants Brigade forces sent reinforcements to the front from Shabwa’s capital, Ataq.

On March 28-29, Houthi forces resumed attacks against the Shabwa Defense forces near Im-Qwah. After gaining control of several strategic locations in Shabwa, including Im-Khashaba, Shamekh, and Al-Hilla, Houthi forces withdrew to their previous positions near the border.

Other Frontline Fighting

In southern Hudaydah, regular fighting continued between Houthi forces and the Joint Forces, concentrated in Al-Garrahi, Jabal Ras, Al-Tuhaytah, and Hays districts.

Heavy clashes were reported on March 14, 15, and 19 in the Al-Sard area in the north of Hays district, as Houthi forces targeted the Joint Forces with 16 explosives-laden drones and employed Katyusha rockets for the first time on this front, according to military sources on both sides. Medical sources said five Joint Forces soldiers were killed, including the commander of the 5th Battalion of the 9th Giants Brigade, Muhyiddin al-Hudhaifi, and 36 others wounded, while 18 Houthi fighters were wounded. Explosives-laden Houthi drones also targeted Joint Forces’ positions in Wadi al-Mareer area near Hays city toward the end of the month, with local sources reporting that the explosives carried by the drones seem to be more powerful than those employed in previous attacks.

Intense fighting was recorded in Al-Dhalea during March, with approximately two dozen Houthi fighters killed and more than 50 wounded, and six STC and pro-government forces killed and more than 20 wounded in the first week of the month alone. Intense clashes were reported in the Al-Jub Hajar area of northwest Al-Dhalea district, involving Houthi forces, pro-STC Saiqa Brigades, and Southern Resistance forces, as well as in Al-Azariq district and on the Al-Fakher front in the north of Qaataba district. Despite the heavy casualties, there were no major advances by either side.

Weekly clashes also occurred in Lahj between Houthi and pro-STC forces, though at a lower intensity than the fighting in neighboring Al-Dhalea. Further south, regular fighting continued to flare up on the Aqbat al-Tharah and Aqbat al-Halhal fronts, which straddle the border of southern Mukayras in Houthi-held Al-Bayda governorate and Abyan’s northern Lawdar district. Notably, fighting expanded along the border to Abyan’s Jayshan district, with the Abyan Joint forces repelling a Houthi attack in Al-Muzamar area on March 7 and 14.

Taiz Governor, Senior Military Officials Targeted in Taiz

According to the Taiz governorate information office, Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan survived an assassination attempt while returning to Taiz city from Al-Makha on March 25. Shamsan’s car was hit by an anti-tank guided missile and then shelled at least 20 times in the Al-Kadha area in Al-Ma’afer district from Houthi-controlled areas overlooking the main road linking Al-Makha to areas west of Taiz city. After escaping the initial attacks, Shamsan came under fire from unidentified gunmen for an hour and a half. A separate explosives-laden drone attack targeted the convoy of Minister of Defense Mohsen al-Daeri and Chief of Staff Saghir bin Aziz, who were traveling through Al-Wazi’yah district after also attending the meeting in Al-Makha with Shamsan and PLC member and National Resistance forces commander Tareq Saleh. The government accused the Houthis of carrying out the attacks, although they occurred during a time of heightened tension within elements of the Islah party and the STC over a potential political realignment in Taiz governorate, as Saleh, Shamsan, and Islah leaders have recently sought closer ties.

Saudi Commanders Hold Meetings Across Southern Yemen

Saudi-led coalition military commanders held a series of meetings during the month across multiple governorates with pro-government and STC-affiliated officials. The talks appeared intended to deescalate tensions in southern Yemen, particularly over the Wadi Hadramawt region, where the STC has been agitating for the replacement of Islah-affiliated 1st Military Region forces. Amer Abdullah bin Hatiyan, who was appointed as chief of staff of the 1st Military Region in December in an attempt to placate tensions, submitted his resignation to the PLC in early March. The PLC has yet to formally respond to the letter as the future of the 1st Military Region remains a focal point of tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their respective Yemeni allies.

On March 1, a Saudi delegation met with Islah-affiliated security and military commanders, who were driven out of Shabwa by STC-affiliated forces in August. On March 2, Minister of Defense Mohsen al-Daeri, commander of the 4th Military Region Fadl Hassan, and Saudi-led coalition commander Sultan al-Baqmi visited Southern Resistance forces stationed on the Aqbat al-Tharah front. It was the highest-level delegation to meet with Southern Resistance forces during the war. The next day, Al-Baqmi met Tareq Saleh in Al-Makha. Also on March 3, Al-Mahra Governor Mohammed Ali Yasser met with Saudi-led coalition commander Abed al-Qahtani, US Ambassador to Yemen Steven Fagin, and commander of the US 5th Fleet Brad Cooper at Al-Ghaydah Airport. On March 4, the overall commander of the STC-affiliated Security Belt forces, Brigadier General Mohsen al-Wali, met with the Salafist commander of the Saudi-backed Nation’s Shield forces, Brigadier General Bashir al-Madrabi, in the Bir Ahmed area of Aden’s western Al-Buraiqa district. According to a government security source, a number of dissatisfied Security Belt soldiers have joined the Nation’s Shield forces, which are under the command of PLC chief Rashad al-Alimi, after not receiving salaries for five months.

Defense Minister Al-Daeri visited Socotra on March 18 with military Chief of Staff Saghir bin Aziz, the first such trip by senior government officials since STC forces seized control of the archipelago in 2020. Although most government agencies have been in the hands of UAE-backed STC figures since 2018, a small Saudi force on the islands recently moved to a military base near Socotra airport. Al-Daeri met Al-Mahra Governor Mohammed Ali Yasser, alongside Army Chief of Staff Saghir bin Aziz, on March 23, inspecting units of the Al-Ghaydah Axis and attending a military parade in Al-Ghaydah city. On March 23, STC chief and PLC member Aiderous al-Zubaidi received a delegation from the Joint Forces Command of the Saudi-led coalition, headed by Al-Baqmi. Al-Zubaidi later chaired a joint military meeting at the party’s headquarters in Al-Tawahi district on March 27, which included Al-Daeri, Bin Aziz, and a delegation headed by Al-Baqmi from the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Forces.

Other Developments in Brief

March 5: STC activists in Al-Mahra announced the creation of a new militia called the Al-Mahra Defense forces.

March 16: Security units from the Southern Resistance forces at Aden’s airport prevented military cadets on scholarship from traveling to Sudan, according to security sources. The students’ passports were held until the flight’s departure, after which they were asked to leave the airport. The obstruction of travel was reportedly in protest of northern students receiving scholarships over candidates from southern Yemen.

March 17: A Liberia-flagged Greek-controlled merchant ship reportedly came under fire about 70 kilometers south of the Houthi-controlled port of Hudaydah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported. After several gunshots were fired from unidentified men on a small boat, armed guards on the merchant ship returned fire. The confrontation ended without casualties. Following the incident, vessels using the Red Sea route past Yemen have been advised to be on alert.

March 20: Clashes broke out between forces affiliated with Brigadier General Mukhtar al-Nubi, commander of the STC-affiliated Abyan Military Axis, and pro-government General Security forces led by Brigadier General Abu Mishaal al-Kazmi, director of Abyan security, in the governorate capital Zinjibar, according to an eyewitness. The clashes began after Al-Nubi’s forces intercepted the convoy of Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalek Saeed and prevented him from entering Zinjibar to attend a celebration at the University of Abyan. Several people were injured and the Abyan Security Department’s Emergency Forces arrested a number of STC leaders, including Omar al-Harish, director of the public administration, Yasser al-Salahi, director of the financial department, Abdullah Barhout, director of the organizational department, and Saleh Abu al-Shabab, head of the STC in Zinjibar. Prior to the clashes, STC demonstrators held peaceful protests against the prime minister’s first trip to the governorate during the conflict.

March 21: The Criminal Prosecution Office in Aden directed the 4th Military Region and the Ministry of Interior to issue arrest warrants and place travel restrictions on members of the Islah-affiliated Taiz Military Axis involved in a September 2022 attack on Taiz Judge Mahmoud al-Sabri, which resulted in the death of his son. The accused Islah commanders include Abdo Farhan al-Mekhlafi, also known as Salem, and Shawqi al-Mekhlafi, brother of powerful tribal sheikh and militia leader Hammoud al-Mekhlafi.

March 22: Houthi forces conducted live-fire military drills in Al-Khalq district in eastern Al-Jawf, marking nearly nine years since the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention. The drills, which were carried out about 150 kilometers from the Saudi border, included a helicopter, a tank, armored vehicles, and a replica of an explosives-laden drone capable of dropping mortar shells on targets. Later, on March 28, a Houthi pilot flew a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet over a military parade in Sana’a, making it the first time a warplane has been seen over the city since the start of the conflict. The Houthis are believed to have a limited number of operational fighter jets and helicopters after the Saudi-led coalition destroyed most of Yemen’s air force in the early days of the war.

March 23: S&P Global reported that Saudi Arabia had resumed plans to build a 900 km wall along the border between the Kingdom and Yemen. According to the report, plans for a border structure have been in place since 2003, but have yet to be implemented. The proposed wall will likely include radar and security towers and is designed to protect against Houthi attacks on oil infrastructure.

March 31: Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated the head of operations of the pro-government 3rd Border Guard Brigade, Colonel Yasser al-Hashidi, in the Wadi al-Qadi neighborhood in central Taiz city. Al-Hashidi had returned from the Al-Boqaa front in Sa’ada governorate to spend Ramadan with his family.