Armed Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees. AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH HASSAN
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As Gulf Arab troops push through Yemen's central desert into the mountains that lead to the capital held by the Houthis, their Iran-allied foe, winning the hearts and minds of the heavily armed tribes who rule in this area is essential.Yemeni tribal irregulars – many of them barely out of adolescence – drive around the sandblown roads on the outskirts of the Gulf Arabs' base at Safer and are a vital, if far less organized and well-armed, part of the war effort.One Emirati soldier operating at the Saudi-led Arab coalition base at Safer said the force relied on local Yemeni fighters to guard the site but only at the outer perimeter.The Gulf Arab troops have been careful about congregating in one place since a missile attack by the Houthis earlier this month killed at least 60 Emirati, Saudi and Bahraini men. Saudi Arabia, which fears that its main enemy Iran would use Houthi control in Yemen to undermine Riyadh's own stability, gathered a coalition of Arab countries backed by the West to push back the Houthis and restore Hadi.Some of the Gulf Arab troops were sharply critical of the tribal irregulars, questioning their fighting ability and their unruly approach to tactics.
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