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Yemen’s Houthis have ambushed a group of Saudi-backed Sudanese troops west of Hiran. Earlier, reports appeared that the Sudanese government is planning to withdraw its troops from Yemen, thus de-facto halting its participation in the Saudi-led invasion.

The Saudi alliance with President Hadi faces difficulties. Hadi is a deeply unpopular figure across much of Yemen and his support base is small, meaning that the likelihood of all sides accepting him as the head of any post-conflict Yemen are extremely remote. He has also been increasingly marginalised by the Saudis, with senior diplomats making it clear that Hadi will not have a role in the future government as both sides have agendas which are not clearly aligned. Meanwhile the operation – Restoring Hope – is a significant strain on the Kingdom’s resources, which have already been hit by falling oil prices, while Houthi cross-border rocket fire has killed hundreds of Saudi citizens. There has also been widespread condemnation of the number of civilian casualties from the Saudi-led airstrike campaign.

Large parts of the country have been decimated by the conflict, while the country’s already weak economy has completely collapsed. The UN estimated that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and millions more have been displaced. At the same time, more than three-quarters of the population needs food aid and many face starvation as several aid agencies have been forced to withdraw from the country due to the insecurity and damage to the infrastructure. Yemen was reliant on imports for around 90 percent of food and medicine prior to the conflict, a large proportion of which came into the country via the port in Hudaydah, which has since been severely damaged. The UN and several international observers have described the situation as a humanitarian crisis on a par with Syria. In November 2017 the Saudis imposed a three-week blockade on Yemen in response to a Houthi missile on Riyadh. Meanwhile, a lack of clean water led to the largest outbreaks of cholera in modern history, with more than 700,000 suspected cases reported between April and September 2017.

The Iranian-backed Houthis say a three-day assault in August on the town of Najran – near the Yemen border – saw 2,000 Saudi soldiers taken prisoner and more than 500 dead.

At any time in the past four and a half years, as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen were fighting in Yemen with local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to an Al Jazeera report. Many of these, the report adds, were children and mercenaries.

There are “between 8,000 and 14,000 Sudanese paramilitary forces are fighting in Yemen”, Noha Aboueldahab, from Brookings Doha Centre, told Al Jazeera.

“Sudanese mercenaries, many of them children from Darfur, have been lured into fighting on the ground in Yemen in exchange for financial compensation.” 

The decision to join the Saudi-led war against Houthis in Yemen was made by former dictator Omar al-Bashir, whose current trial revealed he received millions in illicit cash funds from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Bashir was ousted by the military in April following mass demonstrations demanding an end to his decades-old rule.