Saudi Arabia invades Yemen with 150,000 soldiers, 100 fighter jets and 76 fighters from partners

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday night launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed Shiite rebel forces in Yemen, responding to distress calls from the U.S.-backed Yemeni president who was fleeing the country in the face of relentless advances by the rebels.

The intervention brings the risk that Yemen will become ground zero for a proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states against Iran, the region’s largest Shiite power, and signals a marked escalation of complexity in the evolving war gripping several nations across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units on Thursday, after it launched its operation against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Al Arabiya News Channel reported. The UAE contributed 30 fighter jets, Bahrain 15, Kuwaiti 15, Qatar 10 and Jordan 6 in the operation.

Yemen’s beleaguered government said Saudi-led airstrikes against its Houthi militia opponents would not last long on the second day of a Gulf Arab-led campaign against the Iranian-allied militia that could escalate a proxy conflict spreading through the region.

Warplanes targeted Houthi forces controlling Yemen’s capital and their northern heartland on Friday and, in a boost for Riyadh, fellow monarchy Morocco said it would join the rapidly-assembled Sunni Muslim coalition against the Shi’ite Muslim group.

The Republican Guards are loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthi’s main ally who retains wide power despite having stepped down in 2011 after Arab Spring protests.

Earlier air strikes south of the city and in the oil-producing Marib region appeared to target military installations also affiliated with Saleh.

Yemeni oil flows through the Marib pipeline, its main export route, at a rate of around 70,000 barrels per day (bpd). The well-armed tribes are the de facto authority in the central province so their support for the air strikes was significant.

Saudi’s air force has the largest fleet of F-15 fighters after the U.S. and Japan, with a stock of 152 of the Strike Eagle variant. The three primary jet fighters used in the offensive are European-made Eurofighter Typhoons, U.S.-made F-15s, and UK-made Tornados. The Saudi military numbers 227,000 troops, including 75,000 in the army, 13,500 in the navy and 20,000 in the air force, according to the report.

Some 16,000 personnel are committed to air defenses, 2,500 responsible for strategic missiles and 100,000 man the National Guard, according to the IISS Military Balance, 2015.

The kingdom also has 24,500 paramilitary forces.

SOURCES – Reuters, Al Arabiya, Washington Times

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