Iona Craig writes: When young garage mechanic Aidaroos Saleh heard the familiar ping of his smartphone, he could never have imagined the journey on which the incoming message would take him. In a matter of weeks, Saleh, 22, went from fixing cars in his adopted country of Saudi Arabia to the battle front of his southern Yemen homeland.
The message was an official communication, a call to arms for Yemenis in Saudi Arabia to join a fighting force that would “defend Aden” — the southern Yemeni city that descended into civil war in mid-March. Four months after he responded to the message in April, the young fighter sat cradling an AK-47 assault rifle between his knees in the scorching heat of Aden.
“They promised us salaries and medical care abroad if we got injured in Yemen,” he said, wearing glasses, sandals and a mawaz, which is like a sarong. He and his cohort received neither.
Those who joined up were sent to the Saudi border town of Sharurah — in the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert — where they should have received military training to prepare them for deployment in Aden.
This desert camp of some 6,000 Yemeni volunteers was the origin of the kingdom’s Operation Golden Arrow, a ground offensive launched in Yemen in July that now looks set to move in on the capital, Sanaa. This latest phase of operations in Yemen follows consecutive aerial campaigns carried out since March as part of the Saudi-led coalition of nations bid to restore Yemen’s President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he fled to Riyadh earlier this year.
But in order to bring Hadi back, the coalition has first set itself the task of removing the Houthis and military units loyal to his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who seized control of the capital almost a year ago. [Continue reading…]