Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said airstrikes over the past two days were designed to stop the Houthi rebels from seizing Aden, a stronghold of the U.S.-backed government that was driven from power.
Analysts said the Saudi-led air campaign would shift military momentum away from the Houthis and push them toward the negotiating table before a possible ground invasion by Arab armies.
“The objective is not to score a military victory,” said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. “The objective is not to occupy Yemen. The objective is to bring (the Houthis) back to the political process.”
Alani said Saudi ground forces probably would be limited to quick raids or helping to secure Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen. He said Saudis and their allies would want to avoid a lengthy ground war in a country with mountainous terrain familiar to the rebels.
Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes last week in Yemen, which is caught in a sectarian war that has pitted Iranian-backed rebels against a Saudi-backed regime in exile. The Saudis and their allies are Sunnis, while Iran is the region’s major Shiite power.
Over the weekend, the 22-member Arab League voted to establish a broader military force capable of intervening in Yemen and other countries in the region facing rebellions.
The Houthis are fighting the U.S.-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government had been a critical ally of the U.S. counterterrorism effort against an active al-Qaeda branch in Yemen. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in the face of the rebels’ advances.
Air power is generally not sufficient to defeat an enemy outright, but the Saudis have an effective air force, having spent billions on the latest American warplanes. It’s allies also have modern U.S.-built planes. The United States helps by providing the Saudis with intelligence in Yemen.
In recent years, the Saudis have stepped up the quality of their training, said Charles Wald, a retired Air Force general who helped establish the Air Warfare Center in Abu Dhabi, a premier training facility for pilots in the region.
In Yemen, there were conflicting reports about an airstrike Monday. The Houthisclaimed an airstrike killed 40 people in a refugee camp in the north.
Witnesses told the Associated Press that the camp was occupied by Houthi forces and that most of those killed were fighters.