Why Yemeni Soldiers are Frustrated with Saudi Arabia

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yemeni soldiers - citizen slant
Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

Many Yemeni pro-government soldiers are leaving the battlefield in protest for receiving irregular wages.

Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition to support Yemeni president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is well financed in their campaign against the Houthi rebels, but remain slow in their payments, according to Yemeni soldiers.

“There is growing resentment among the soldiers,” Major Mortada al-Youssefi, commander of a government military unit, said. “They have no power to influence the government or the coalition to pay them.”

The bulk of the men that comprise of the army are in their late teens and early twenties. Many of them dropped out of school to fight for the coalition when the war began. Most were working on fishing boats, farms and construction sites to support their families, officials said.

“Many signed up to fight for their country, but many did join to make a living, especially since there are no salaries in other sectors,” Ezzaldin al-Asbahi, the country’s human rights minister, said in an interview.

“We really understand their suffering because it is truly affecting their lives and they are making a lot sacrifices.”

For people whose alternative might not be much, the offer seemed to be substantial. The coalition had promised each soldier a salary of $270 a month. In Yemen, that is the equivalent of prewar salary of a professor with a Master’s degree. Once on the front lines, however, officers said that many younnge men went unpaid for months. This starkly contrasts the picture painted in the Houthi-held cities, where soldiers get paid $200-$300 a month without any delays.

Many officials agree that there is a problem in this area. “Yes, there have been administrative issues, but there was also a funding problem relating to our regional partnerships,” said Major Gen. Mohsen Khosrouf, the Yemeni military’s director of morale. “We had a problem distributing and getting the funds we were meant to distribute.”

The problem does not seem to affect everyone, just troops that are meant to be funded by Saudi Arabia. “There hasn’t been a problem in the Emirati-controlled areas,” said Nasser al-Aziri, an aide to the Yemeni military’s chief of staff, Mohamed al-Maqdashi, referring to the military units that fall under the command of the United Arab Emirates, another member of the coalition. There, the payments are not only regular, but are twice and sometimes even thrice as high as their Saudi contemporaries.

“Many are getting married and building homes there,” said Mr. Aziri, the chief of staff’s aide.

“Their lives have improved since they have joined the army, especially since things there are quiet. So they can enjoy this stable salary, which they would not have been able to get elsewhere. These young men, who don’t come from rich, merchant families, couldn’t have done any of these things without the military.”

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