By Tim Nanns
Senegal pledged its support to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, with the country’s Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye confirming on Monday that his country would send 2,100 troops.
He justified the operation in front of parliament by arguing it was to “protect and secure the holy sites of Islam”.
Even though Senegal is a Sunni Muslim majority country, most of its people belong to the less orthodox Sufi sect of Islam. The country is also not known to have extensive ties to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. This has sparked speculation that the West African nation’s participation is likely to be more out of economical and political interests.
Despite this, Senegal has a history of supporting the Saudis, having sent troops to protect Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. It lost 92 soldiers during this war, when a Saudi plane carrying them crashed.
Meanwhile, exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi announced Monday he would host a ‘Yemeni Dialogue Conference’ in Riyadh. This would occur, however, without participants from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party or the Houthi militia, making progress towards a resolution unlikely.
Inside Yemen, the situation appears even more critical after air strikes in the past week rendered the airport in Yemeni capital Sana’a virtually useless. This led the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, to call on Monday upon the coalition to “stop targeting Sana’a international airport to preserve this important lifeline”.
Another recent development was a rare joint statement by humanitarian organisations International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), issued on Monday. In the statement, they expressed deep concerns regarding the “severe damage” dealt to Sana’a airport, describing it as “the main lifeline to supply essential humanitarian goods and services”.
With lifelines such as airports and seaports out of order, Yemen, which relies greatly on imports for food and medical supplies, is facing a growing humanitarian crisis. The UN, in its latest estimate at the end of April, said the civilian death toll was around 600, attributing a large part of it to air strikes.
Unconfirmed reports by Hezbollah-affiliated TV station Al-Manar and Houthi media outlets Tuesday claimed Houthi militiamen crossed the border to Saudi Arabia and seized control of several military posts. It is also reported they captured several prisoners as well. Pictures of Houthi fighters in front of ‘captured’ artillery pieces circulated on social media.
Daily News Egypt, however, understands that the pictures are more likely to portray Russian-made D-30 howitzers, a weapon not in use by Saudi forces but by other participants of the Yemen conflict, including the Yemeni army itself, and Egypt.
Reports by several media outlets claimed mortar fire hit the outskirts of Najran city on Tuesday and flights to and from the city were suspended, as well as schools. Given the nature of the mortar as a short-range weapon, it would put Houthi forces dangerously close to the population hub in the south, possibly confirming the claims of having crossed the border to Saudi Arabia.