Yemen’s Houthi-allied military has made significant strides in its air-defense sector and has become a real threat to Saudi-led Coalition and U.S. operations over Yemen.
HODEIDA, YEMEN — News that a U.S. government drone was shot down over Yemen’s port city of Hodeida has provoked anger among local residents, who say it is clear evidence of direct U.S. involvement in a war which has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, and has left almost 25 million people in need of aid.
On Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said in a statement that on June 6 Houthi fighters shot down a U.S. government MQ-9 Reaper drone using an SA-6 surface-to-air missile, adding that the altitude at which the drone was shot down “indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability.”
U.S. officials attempted to link the attack on a U.S. drone on Yemen’s coast to the downing of the MQ-9 on June 13, as the unmanned surveillance aircraft was said to be flying over one of two crippled oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia claim were also targeted by Iran. High-ranking Yemeni officials strongly reject this link, but also assert that they will not hesitate to accept any help to defend their country.
The CENTCOM statement confirmed reporting by MintPress that the Yemeni army, loyal to the Houthis, shot down a U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper in al-Jabaliyah on the country’s west coast. It is not the first U.S. drone downed by Houthi forces. On June 4, a U.S.-made drone was downed and last month a U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone was shot down in Yemen. This March, Yemeni forces shot down an MQ-1 Predator over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. A few weeks later, an MQ-1C drone was shot down, also over Sana’a.
Yemen’s Houthi movement called Brown’s statement an avowal of U.S. participation in the war. Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said: “The U.S. military admitting the downing of the reconnaissance drone on Yemen’s west coast proves that the aggression carries a U.S.-Zionist agenda.” He claimed that the U.S. has been involved in “various crimes committed for the fifth year against our people.”
This was not the only incident that angered local residents in Yemen this week. Families of the victims of a Saudi airstrike on a Yemeni school bus — including Zaid al Tayeb, who lost two sons in the attack — told MintPress that the Trump administration’s emergency authorization allowing a top defense firm the right to build high-tech bomb parts in Saudi Arabia is a gift to the Kingdom that killed their loved ones.
Earlier this month, Trump granted Riyadh its very own bomb factory, despite the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record, prompting fear from Yemenis that the move will allow Saudi Arabia to reinforce its stockpile, which is already tens of thousands strong, and that the new weapons would not be used for their stated purpose of countering Iran, but instead would be dropped on Yemen.
On August 10, 2018, Zaid al Tayeb lost two of his sons — Ahmed and Ali — in a deadly school bus attack in Dhahran city in Sadaa, northern Yemen, when Saudi warplanes dropped the U.S.-manufactured Raytheon Mark-82 bomb, killing 40 children. Saudi warplanes also used the Mark-82 in a 2016 attack on a funeral in the capital Sana’a. That attack claimed over 140 lives and injured 525 others.
Reverse engineering from enemy wreckage
Large drones, like the MQ-9 Reaper, are usually shot down with modified air-to-air missiles, such as the Soviet-made and infrared-guided R-27T. However, the MQ-9 shot down over Hodeida was downed by an advanced air-defense system colloquially dubbed the “Barg” thunderbolt, which is a modified SA-6 surface-to-air missile, according to a Yemeni military source, who spoke to MintPress on condition of anonymity owing to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.
Yemen’s Houthi-allied military has made significant strides in its air-defense sector and has become a real threat to Saudi-led Coalition and U.S. operations over Yemen. The system was created using reverse-engineered technology left behind by fleeing Saudi troops, who often abandon their high-tech U.S. weapons and from the wreckage of downed U.S.-made Saudi fighter aircraft, including the F-16.
According to a Yemeni military source, the Yemeni Army has already succeeded in reverse engineering portions of the highly-prized U.S. MQ-9 technology using the wreckage of downed drones. The MQ-9 can travel vast distances, be piloted from thousands of miles away, hover in the sky for hours, and unleash a fury of Hellfire missiles.
Relying on drone and missile attacks to compel negotiation
The existing arsenal of drones manufactured by Yemen’s Houthi-allied military has already yielded increased battlefield victories, including in a series of attacks on the Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia. The fifth such attack on Abha came on Monday using a Qasef K2 drone, following twin strikes on the same airport and another airport in the neighboring province of Jizan using the same type of drone on Friday. Monday’s attack came a day after Saudi Arabia bombarded areas in Yemen’s capital Sana’a and in the northwestern Yemeni province of Hajjah.
The Abha airport was previously targeted by a cruise missile that brought a halt to air traffic in the area, marking a major leap in Yemen’s domestic military capability, which had to that point been limited to retaliatory drone strikes on the Kingdom, as it was not intercepted by the Kingdom’s U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile batteries.
A military source told MintPress that the attacks, striking the airport control center at the Jizan airport and the fuel station at the Abha airport, left both airports out of service. The main targets of the Yemeni army have been installations in Jizan, Najran, Abha and Khamis Mushait, and a spokesman of the Yemeni armed forces said that “such attacks will hit other airports if the Saudi bombardment and blockade of [Yemen] continues.”
Yemeni military forces have intensified retaliatory attacks on vital positions in southern Saudi territories over the past few days, citing Saudi Arabia’s failure to comply with UN-brokered peace initiatives in Yemen. The Houthis also warned that airports in Saudi Arabia and the United Arabia Emirates will be targeted as long as the embargo on the Sana’a International Airport remains in place.
Meanwhile, a high-ranking diplomatic source told MintPress that mediation efforts, led by Britain, are underway to stop the targeting of airports and vital installations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council, said Sana’a is ready to hold serious talks with influential countries to achieve fair peace.
The Houthis have fully withdrawn their forces from three key ports in Hodeida in compliance with the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, who heads the UN monitoring mission, confirmed on Thursday. The unilateral Houthi pullout from the ports in early May was the most significant advance yet for peace in the country; the Saudi-led Coalition, however, has not taken any steps to indicate a serious desire for peace. Local residents believe attacks on Saudi-led Coalition countries are the most effective way to bring these countries to the negotiating table.
Feature photo | Houthi fighters inspect the remains of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone downed over Hodeida, Yemen. Photo | Al-Masriah
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.