India begins evacuating citizens

Operation Raahat launched; INS Sumitra enters Aden

April 01, 2015 03:04 am | Updated November 28, 2021 09:54 am IST - NEW DELHI/BENGALURU

Documents being check prior to boarding INS Sumita at Aden port. Photo Courtesy: Indian Navy

Documents being check prior to boarding INS Sumita at Aden port. Photo Courtesy: Indian Navy

After a delay in beginning the evacuation of Indians stranded in Yemen owing to intensified fighting in Aden, India on Tuesday night received permission to dock its vessel at the port of Aden to evacuate nearly 400 stranded Indians to Djibouti.

Since reports last came in, passengers were boarding a commercial liner at Aden which will reach Djibouti on Wednesday morning. Naval Ship INS Sumitra which was diverted from anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden and anchored just off the Yemen coast has entered Aden to assist the evacuation operation that has been officially named “Operation Raahat”. There has been increased urgency for evacuation with mounting fears of a ground invasion by Saudi-led forces into Yemen to fight back the Houthi rebels in control.

Two more ships, the destroyer INS Mumbai and the frigate INS Tarkash have set sail from India, and would reach the Yemen coast by April 2, and are equipped to deal with several contingencies, officials said. Efforts to bring the Indians, mostly stranded in Sana’a and Aden, to safety are expected to be ramped up when Minister of State for Overseas Indian Affairs Gen. (Retd) V.K. Singh reaches neighbouring Djibouti on Wednesday. “We are in touch with the various (government and rebel) groups in Yemen. The problem is road travel is curtailed because they are fighting,” he told The Hindu . The other problem was that the Saudi forces were not extending bigger airflight windows to allow the evacuation flights to operate from Sana’a.

Officials say the Op. Raahat plan is to deploy all naval ships and four aircraft, including two IAF C-17 Globemasters and two Air India flights stationed in Muscat all together to launch a “composite” evacuation effort.

However, the relatives of Indians in Yemen say the government should have acted before the Saudi air campaign against rebels began on March 26.

“I would blame the government for its tardy response to the crisis,” said Bengaluru-based Shiva Kumar, whose brother Ravi Kumar had flown to Sana’a on March 12 on business when fighting broke out. Speaking over the telephone to The Hindu, he said that in addition to the approximately 4,000 Indian labourers, businessmen and nurses registered with the Indian embassy, there are “at least 5,000” illegal workers as well, who need to be evacuated.

Officials said they were aware of the difficulties being faced by Indians who had chosen to remain in Yemen.

Yemen on the brink

Who are fighting whom?

  • Houthis: The rebel group controls nine of 21 provinces now
  • Saudi-led coalition: Here are some of those who are participating and what they are deploying: Saudi Arabia: 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units UAE: 30 fighter jets Bahrain: 15 fighter jets Kuwait: 15 fighter jets Qatar: 10 fighter jets Jordan: 6 fighter jets Sudan: 3 fighter jets Egypt: naval and air forces involved.
  • Yemeni security forces: The military is now split as units that support Mr. Hadi, units that support the Houthis, and units that support a still-influential Saleh, who is in the Houthi camp for now
  • Popular Resistance Committees: Militia loyal to Hadi in his stronghold of south Yemen.
  • AQAP: Mr. Hadi and Houthis are fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged several attacks in the country and is strong in the south. Active since 2009. AQAP has taken advantage of the power struggle.
  • IS: A new group of militants inspired by the Islamic State group has claimed major attacks, including suicide bombings which killed at least 142 people at Shia mosques in Sana’a.
  • U.S.: CIA drones have continued to target top AQAP leaders, but the campaign has suffered from Mr. Hadi’s absence. Last week, U.S. military advisers were withdrawn from a southern base as al-Qaeda militants seized a nearby city.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s.

After some protests pitted it against the government, the group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shia Iran. The group is hostile to the United States but has also vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.

Key dates to the Yemen conflict

  • September 21, 2014: Houthi rebels seize government and military sites in Sana’a after several days of fighting that killed more than 270 people. Rival groups sign a U.N.-brokered peace deal stipulating a Houthi withdrawal from the capital and formation of a new government.
  • October 9, 2014: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has declared war on the Houthis, claims an attack in Sana’a in which 47 are killed.
  • October 14, 2014: The Houthis seize the Red Sea port of Hodeida, 230 km west of Sana’a, then move toward the centre without opposition from government forces but face fierce resistance from AQAP and its tribal allies.
  • January 20, 2015: Houthis attack Mr. Hadi’s residence and seize the presidential palace, and the President and Prime Minister resign two days later.
  • February 6, 2015: The rebels announce they have dissolved Parliament and installed a presidential council to run the country. The United States and Gulf monarchies accuse Iran of backing the Houthis. In the south and southeast, authorities reject what they brand a coup attempt.
  • February 21, 2015: Mr. Hadi flees south to Aden after escaping from weeks under house arrest and urges the international community to “reject the coup,” rescinding his resignation and subsequently declaring Aden the temporary capital.
  • March 19, 2015: Clashes in which at least 11 are killed force the closure of the international airport in Aden and Mr. Hadi is moved to a more secure location after an air raid on the presidential palace there.
  • March 22, 2015: The Houthis advance southwards, seizing the airport and a nearby military base in Taez, north of Aden and a strategic entry point to Mr. Hadi’s stronghold. Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi says the rebels have moved south to combat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
  • March 25, 2015: Mr. Hadi is again moved as rebel forces bear down on Aden, capturing a major airbase nearby just days after U.S. military personnel were evacuated from it.
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