(Updates) Saudi Arabia Launches Airstrikes Against Rebels in Yemen
The New York Times is reporting that three major Shiite militia groups who were participating in the fight for Tikrit have “pulled out” of the fight “immediately depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of their fighters on the ground even as American warplanes readied for an expected second day of airstrikes against the Islamic State there.”
Apparently the pull-out is in protest of U.S. airstrikes against ISIL forces in Tikrit.
Together the three groups represent as much as a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, analysts said.
“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said they would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.
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Update on Tikrit air strikes:
After an Iraqi government request, coalition fighter, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 17 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists.
The airstrikes struck an ISIL building, two ISIL bridges, three ISIL checkpoints, two ISIL staging areas, two ISIL berms, an ISIL roadblock and an ISIL-controlled command and control facility, officials said.
“The ongoing Iraqi and coalition airstrikes are setting the conditions for offensive action to be conducted by Iraqi forces currently surrounding Tikrit,” said Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, who commands the combined joint task force. “Iraqi security forces supported by the coalition will continue to gain territory from [ISIL].”
Excerpt updates from Reuters:
Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operations. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive in Yemen, it said.
There was no immediate confirmation of those figures from Riyadh. Al-Arabiya also said the United Arab Emirates was sending 30 warplanes to join the operation, along with 15 each from Bahrain and Kuwait, 10 from Qatar, six each from Jordan and Morocco and three from Sudan.
A widening Yemen conflict could also pose risks for global oil supplies, and Brent crude oil prices shot up nearly 6 percent soon after the operation began.
Unidentified warplanes had earlier launched air strikes on the main airport in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and its al Dulaimi military airbase, residents said.
A Reuters witness in the capital said four or five houses near Sanaa airport had been damage. Rescue workers put the death toll from the air strikes at 13, including a doctor who had been pulled from the rubble of a damaged clinic.
A senior leader of Yemen’s Houthi movement said the Saudi air strikes amounted to aggression against his country and warned they would set off a “wide war” in the region.
Houthi-run al-Masirah television reported that the Saudi-led air strikes had hit a residential neighbourhood north of Sanaa and caused dozens of casualties. It also urged medical personnel to report to hospitals in Sanaa immediately.
Although the news sparked jitters in the oil market, Asian importers said they were not immediately worried about supply disruptions.
Most oil tankers from Arab producers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq have to pass Yemen’s coastlines via the narrow Gulf of Aden in order to get through the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Europe.
“Just because Saudi and others conducted air strikes doesn’t mean the oil market becomes suddenly tight,” said Masaki Suematsu from brokerage Newedge Japan in Tokyo.
“But there will be repercussions … If Saudi’s oil facilities are attacked, the impact would be huge.”
In what is now a fast-developing story, Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir said in Washington that airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen began at 7 p.m. Washington time and would last until Yemen’s “legitimate government” was restored, according to the Washington Post.
…the White House announced late Wednesday that President Obama had authorized U.S. forces to provide logistical and intelligence support to the operation. American forces were establishing a “Joint Planning Cell” with Saudi Arabia to coordinate military and intelligence assistance, the statement said.
Jubeir said the .airstrikes had targeted sites around the country, including Sanaa. “The operations are limited to defending the government and preventing its collapse,” he said.
After U.S. and coalition military forces began operations in support of Iraqi security forces in Tikrit by conducting air operations to expel ISIL from that city and after reports last night that Saudi Arabia was moving “heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen,” there is now breaking news that Saudi Arabia has begun a “military campaign” in Yemen.
The New York Times reports that the campaign — including by air — is, according to a Saudi official, the beginning of an effort to restore the Yemeni government that collapsed after rebel forces took control of large parts of Yemen.
The Saudi announcement came during a rare news conference in Washington by Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Jubeir said that the Saudis were part of a coalition of about 10 nations determined to blunt the advance of Shiite Houthi rebels, who have overrun Yemen’s capital and forced the American-backed government to flee the war-racked country.
“We will do whatever it takes to protect the legitimate government of Yemen,” said Mr. Jubeir, who spoke to reporters shortly after the air campaign had begun.
Mr. Jubeir did not name the other nations involved in the military campaign, but said that American military forces were not involved in the airstrikes.
The Stars and Stripes provides additional information on the Saudi airstrikes here.
Back to the U.S./coalition operations against ISIL in Tikrit. “The joint, combined task force is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and advise and assist support to Iraqi security force headquarters elements to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL,” officials said.
In addition to airstrikes, coalition forces also continue to provide critical training to Iraqi security forces, according to Centcom officials. There are currently 4,800 Iraqi troops in training at four building partner capacity sites in Iraq, with 3,000 of those troops entering training three weeks ago.
“We are building their capacity while enabling and supporting their operations throughout the country,” Ryder said. “So we are doing a lot, especially in the past three weeks. And we are doing all of this simultaneously and in close coordination with our Iraqi partners.”
Map, released by Central Command, depicts the number and locations of air strikes conducted by coalition forces against ISIL in Iraq and Syria — and the effects — since March 2.
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