The Threat of Land and Naval Mines in Yemen

The Houthi militias have reportedly planted over 500,000 mines and explosive devices in sensitive areas in Yemen to stop the advance of government forces, inflict civilian casualties and destroy infrastructures

Yemenis inspect the site of an explosion near the old city of Sanaa (Photo: AP)

Houthi militias had created various forms of land and naval mines and explosives, which they randomly planted on roads, homes and public facilities in Yemen before they had to withdraw from areas under their control as a result of the military operations of the national army and the Arab coalition.

The Arab Federation for Human Rights, in its report, said the Houthis planted more than 500,000 mines in Yemen, which were responsible for 700 deaths. Mines have also been responsible for the damage and destruction of facilities such as bridges, wells, and vehicles.

The landmines include, among other things, anti-personnel mines as well as homemade bombs and anti-tank mines. They are difficult to find because there are no maps of their locations.

Col. Haytham Haloub, Chief of the Military Engineering Division in the Fourth Military Region and director of the National Mine Action Center in Aden, said that until May 2016, engineering teams defused more than 31,000 mines in Aden, Lahj, Abyan and some parts of the Taiz Governorate.

Engineers of the Arab coalition have dismantled 40,000 mines so far, but the Yemeni government has sought the international community’s help to defuse the mines planted in densely populated areas in the liberated areas.

The government said that the use of anti-personnel mines was outlawed by the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, which prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of anti-personnel mines anywhere. The anti-personnel mines pose a threat to life and lead to losses of civilian lives, especially women and children.

The Death Stones

Houthi militias are employing new methods in creating mines that would kill as many civilians as possible in one attack, and some Yemenis are calling them "death stones." These death stones have been placed in several districts where Houthi militias have struggled or lost control in the ongoing civil war that has gripped the country for nearly three years.

Sources from inside Yemen’s army have confirmed that these "death stones" have been found mainly in the cities and villages in Yemen’s western coast which were liberated from the control of the Houthi militias. The "death stone" mines were randomly planted in roads and dunes and made to look like ordinary rocks, making them hard to detect.

Yemeni government forces warned citizens residing in the west coast of the country from approaching the strange stones on the roads. The forces confirmed that mines and explosive devices were found near the al-Khazan Mountain in Bab al-Mandab, and in some areas of the recently liberated Mokha coastal areas.

The Naval Mines Threat

Since January 2017, the Saudi-led coalition forces discovered and dismantled naval mines that were set by Houthis and militias allied to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh near Yemen coastline in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

A report issued by the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), in March 2017, warned merchant ships from the dangers of mines in Bab al-Mandeb, near the Mokha port entrance.

Sea mines are one of the oldest weapons in the naval inventory and are often the cheapest and most available weapons. Sea mines are not only cheap and deadly, but they are also difficult to find even with modern equipment.  

The naval mines near Yemen, which are believed to have been sourced from Iran, appear to be of the floating type with contact detonators. Although they seem basic, they are a significant threat to merchant ships using the busy Red Sea shipping lanes. 

Operation "Naval Arrow"

Yemen’s legitimate forces launched an operation codenamed "Naval Arrow" on April 16, 2017, in an effort to remove naval mines which they say were planted by Houthi militias at the Midi front, northwest of the Hajjah governorate.

Col. Mohammed Salam Al-Asbahi, commander of the Naval Arrow operation, said the Yemeni Army began the process of combing and clearing the coasts and islands from mines planted by rebel militias. The locations of the mines were identified and marked to help fishermen avoid dangerous areas the engineering teams started the disposal process, dragging the mines to one of the unpopulated islands where they are detonated.

The mines, which are believed to have been sourced from Iran and which are used in old-fashioned submarines, threaten fishermen and residents of islands near the coasts of Midi. They also threaten international navigation in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

The Yemen government has sought help from the international community because Yemen lacks the required equipment. Yemeni engineering teams, supported by the Arab Coalition, extracted and dismantled several Iranian-made naval minefields of various sizes.


The Houthi militias planted mines in sensitive areas to stop the advance of government forces, especially after the southern governorates have been liberated. Statistics show that hundreds of civilian victims fell victim to the explosives, killed or maimed, and the figure is increasing due to the spread of the war in urban areas. Yemen needs years to eliminate the mines because there are no maps to locate where they were planted.

The camouflaging techniques indicate a high level of sophistication on the part of the Houthi forces, demonstrating an ability to employ IEDs effectively and to manufacture or import materials. The practice of camouflaging IEDs within simulated rocks has also been employed by Hezbollah, from the mid-1990s to present day. Both Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’a militias, as well as Houthi forces in Yemen, have received support from the Iranian IRGC.

The Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Violations of Human Rights has called on Houthi militias to provide maps of the minefields. They have also demanded the cessation of the use of further mines – in accordance with international law. It also called for warning signs to be placed in areas which might contain random minefields to help prevent further deaths and injuries.

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