08:53 GMT18 April 2021
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    The Biden administration has declared a halt to US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. The Yemeni Houthis now claim to have shot down a US surveillance and attack drone over central Yemen, although it could also have been a Saudi lookalike.

    The Houthi movement in Yemen has released footage that appears to depict an MQ-9 Reaper drone being struck by an anti-air missile a day after announcing the feat.

    On Tuesday, Houthi military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Sare’e announced that the Air Defenses had struck an “American MQ9 drone” with a missile of undisclosed make and model, the Houthi official news outlet Al-Masirah reported.

    According to Sare’e, the drone was operating over Mar’ib Governorate and had attacked Houthi forces in several of the province’s districts.

    On Wednesday, video purporting to be of the shootdown was posted by a popular open-source research account on Twitter. In the moments before the missile strikes the unmanned aerial vehicle, it deploys some kind of projectile that appears to be a missile, but could also have been a defensive flare.

    ​However, it seems likely the Houthis have made an understandable error and confused a General Atomics RQ-9 Reaper with a China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) CH-4. The two drones look extremely similar, distinguishable only by the CH-4’s lack of a ventral fin below its V-shaped tail, which the grainy video does not seem to show. China sold the Saudis two CH-4s in 2014 after the US refused to export the Reaper, and in 2017 signed a deal to build a drone factory in the kingdom.

    That said, the Houthis have being fooled by CH-4s and MQ-9s before; in December, they announced the downing of a Saudi CH-4, for example.
    A UAV purported to be a US MQ-9 Reaper fires a projectile before being hit by a Houthi anti-air missile. It's unclear if the drone fired its own weapon or a defensive flare.
    An Algerian Air Force CH-4B "Rainbow" drone, built by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)

    Neither the US nor Saudi Arabia have commented about the claims. 

    If it’s truly an American Reaper, this would be the fourth US drone the Houthis have claimed to shoot down. In 2019, the Pentagon attempted to claim that because the Houthis had downed a drone using a Soviet-built 2K12 Kub anti-air missile system, this was proof the Iranians were arming the Houthis and turning the war in Yemen into a proxy war. However, as Sputnik reported, the 2K12 [NATO reporting name SA-6 Gainful] is a widely exported weapon, with the Yemeni Armed Forces having been one of the former Soviet Union’s customers.

    An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle
    An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle

    US Ends Saudi Support Amid Marib Offensive

    The news comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an end to US support for offensive operations in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition last month. Riyadh entered the conflict in 2015 after Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled the country amid a Houthi seizure of power. Other members of the coalition have mostly left, including Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates, although the latter exerts considerable influence in the conflict via friendly militias. 

    The US provided the coalition with refueling, targeting and intelligence information, and deployed special forces to patrol Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen and to chase down Houthi artillery sites. It has also sold bombs, aircraft, and other equipment to several coalition members. Blinken said the US will continue to support Saudi defense, as the Houthis mount missile and drone strikes on Saudi military and petroleum facilities, which form the backbone of the Saudi economy.

    The coalition siege of Yemen has created what the United Nations recognized as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A blockade of Yemen’s ports has deprived the country of food, medicine, and other supplies, and Saudi airstrikes have destroyed its hospitals, schools, and port facilities. In December, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 233,000 people in Yemen had died due to the war, 131,000 of whom died from indirect causes such as famine.

    As the Houthi offensive in Mar’ib to capture its capital city intensifies, observers are warning of a new humanitarian crisis as the city is host to thousands of war refugees who are likely to be caught in the crossfire. Saudi coalition forces have rushed to buttress the city’s defenses, which is the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the north, as the Houthis capture more and more of the city.

    On Monday, the Saudis proposed a new peace deal that would include the reopening of Sana’a’s long-besieged airport, the relaxing of the blockade around the port city of Hodeidah, and a UN-supervised truce. However, the Houthis have rejected the deal out of hand, telling Al-Masirah Riyadh offered nothing new and was falsely posturing as an outside actor in the conflict. 

    Related:

    Yemen’s Houthis Claim Control Over Majority of Marib, Government’s Last Northern Stronghold
    Yemen's Houthis Claim to Have Launched Drones in Attack Against Saudi Aramco in Riyadh
    Saudi Arabia Floats New Peace Initiative, Including Nationwide Ceasefire, to End Yemen Conflict
    Tags:
    Yemen, surface-to-air missile (SAM), Houthis, CH-4B drone, MQ-9 Reaper
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