Yemen: Key pro-govt forces fighting rebels

Aden (AFP) –


Forces loyal to the Yemen government -- backed by the Saudi-led coalition -- are made up of different groups, some of which have been accused of being "largely unaccountable" by Amnesty International.

The London-based rights group on Wednesday accused the United Arab Emirates, a key partner in the coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, of giving "billions of dollars worth of arms" to militias that "answer to no-one and are known to be committing war crimes" in Yemen.

Meanwhile, General Joseph Votel, who heads US Central Command covering the Middle East, also expressed concern Tuesday about a CNN investigation that found weaponry and equipment provided by the United States to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ended up in the hands of militias across war-torn Yemen.

"We have to look more closely at the allegations in this particular situation to find out what happened," Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Some 10,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed since 2015 when the coalition intervened in the Yemen war, according to the World Health Organization, although rights groups say the death toll could be five times higher.

In the south and west of Yemen, there is a number of active armed groups that seized land from the Huthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north.

- Giants Brigade -

The Giants Brigade, known as Al-Amaliqa in Arabic, was established in 2015 and is made up of about 15,000 men -- some from the former Yemeni army while others are volunteers.

It is headed by Abdulrahman Abou Zaraa, who was a honey trader but was promoted to a general by UN-recognised Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The group, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, took part in fighting the Huthis along a 300-kilometre (185-mile) western coastal line between the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

- Security Belt -

The UAE-backed Security Belt was formed in three southern provinces -- including Aden, Lahij and Abyan -- from where they pushed out the Huthi rebels in 2015.

The armed group also played a key role in fighting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the United States as the jihadist network's most dangerous franchise.

The Security Belt recruits from the country's southern separatist movement that has long campaigned for the secession of southern Yemen, which was an independent country before unification in 1990.

Southern Yemen is now home to both the Hadi government and separatists, whose alliance against the Huthis has become increasingly fraught.

The Security Belt has clashed with Hadi supporters for allegedly allowing Islamists into their ranks and of being Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers.

The UAE has blacklisted the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist" organisation and works to limit their influence in Yemen, especially in the south which is under the control of Abu Dhabi-backed troops.

- Elite Forces -

The Elite Forces are made up of two armed groups, one based in the Shabwa province and the other in Hadramawt.

It was established in 2016 with the support of the UAE.

The Elite Forces in Shabwa has more than 5,600 fighters, who succeeded in flushing out AQAP from the province.

The Shabwa forces control most of the province except three districts which remain under the control of the Hadi government.

In Hadramawt, the troops were key in driving AQAP out of the strategic Mukalla port in April 2016.

- National Army -

In the central province of Marib, east of the capital Sanaa, there is another battlefront against the Huthi rebels but it is inactive.

The National Army is loyal to vice president Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a former army general, who is believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood but nevertheless remains an ally of Saudi Arabia -- which also has listed the Brotherhood as a "terrorist" organisation.