Pakistan’s defense minister says his country is considering a request to provide ground troops to complement the Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia began air attacks on the Houthis on Thursday as the rebels advanced on the Yemeni port of Aden. The Sunni Muslim monarchy has been assembling allies to defend Yemen’s weak government against rebels backed by both Iran and a former Yemeni president.
The Pakistani foreign ministry confirmed that the Saudis have asked Pakistan contribute ground forces to Yemen, Reuters reports, but Defense Minister Khawaja Asif indicated that Pakistan is reluctant to get involved.
“We have made no decision to participate in this war. We didn’t make any promise. We have not promised any military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Asif told parliament.
“In Syria, Yemen and Iraq, division is being fueled and it needs to be contained. The crisis has its fault lines in Pakistan too, (we) don’t want to disturb them.”
Mr. Asif did tell Reuters that Pakistan would step in should Saudi Arabia’s territory be threatened, but that “there is no danger of us getting involved in a sectarian war.”
Nonetheless, a sectarian war threatens to emerge from the fighting in Yemen, where Houthi rebels are attempting to oust the Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabbo Mansur Hadi. The Houthis, members of Yemen’s Shiite minority, claim that Mr. Hadi’s government is corrupt and has violated the terms of departure of the previous president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced from power in 2011. Saudi Arabia brokered a transfer of power at the time.
Yemeni Military units allied with Mr. Saleh, who ruled Yemen for decades with US and Saudi support, are now also backing the Houthis.
The Houthis seized Sanaa, the inland capital, in January, but it was their advance towards the port town of Aden that spurred Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s neighbor to the north, to directly intervene. The Saudis have assembled a bloc of four other nations, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan, to drive back the Houthis. UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar are also involved, supplying equipment to the Saudi coalition, the BBC reports.
Rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi called the coalition’s actions “criminal” on Thursday, reports Deutsche Welle. Iran similarly called for an end to the Saudi bloc’s operations, with Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham saying the offensive would “bear no result but expansion of terrorism and extremism throughout the whole region.”
Though the coalition has not ruled out sending ground forces to the region, so far it is only running aerial military operations. Bloomberg reports that in their second day of bombing, Saudi planes struck in the Yemeni north, including an airbase held by Saleh-allied forces. CNN reports that overall, 15 sites were hit, and at least 10 people killed in the attacks.
And while the US is not directly involved in the Saudi coalition, it is providing intelligence to the bloc for its strikes. Two anonymous US officials told Bloomberg that the coalition forces “made use of imagery and targeting information from US intelligence and other assets. While Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations possess attack and aerial refueling aircraft, they lack the reconnaissance satellites, drones and eavesdropping equipment in the American inventory.”