Work // On Yemen’s Frontline in Marib

1st March 2018

CNN’s Nic Robertson asked me to accompany him on a special trip to Marib, Yemen to get a grip on the war’s eastern front.

After leaving the country in 2014, it’s pained me to sit out most of the war in the country. Our team arrived in Marib in the back of two Saudi military Black Hawks, which flew us into Yemen accompanied by a detail of special forces and two apache helicopters to accompany us over the desert between the two countries.

As we landed, it felt a little bit like coming home. The small Emirati base that we touched down on was little more than a concrete helicopter pad surrounded by a narrow perimeter of Hesco barriers.

When I left Sana’a in 2012 after a year or so of covering the country, Marib always was a place that seemed so close to the capital, but was completely off limits to journalists or westerners and it was one of the few places in the country I sorely regretted not being able to visit. It was a place wracked with tribal fighting, kidnapping and general lawlessness. But as the coalition’s main hub for operations in the east, the war economy has washed away the city’s problems (that now plague the rest of the country) and is now probably the most secure city in the country despite its close proximity to Sana’a and the frontline.

Our frontline visit was a typical Yemeni affair; both shambolic and wonderful, with huge wide vistas, stunning scenery and utter chaos all around us. We bounced our way along dirt tracks for several hours in the back of open pickup trucks, accompanied by a rag tag collection of regular Yemeni fighters, local tribesmen, the police and seemingly anyone else who was interested in coming along for the ride.

My favourite place of the trip was a command cave cut out of the mountain side where Nic was able to question the sector’s commander on his progress and why he wasn’t able to push forward faster. But as we climbed up to the cave we were followed by a huge throng of dignitaries and officers all of whom wanted to be in on the briefing. I felt harried by the crowd, which seemed uninterested in my need for space to film or the need for any light from the cave’s opening. It was by stepping back though, that I captured managed to capture one of the strongest images of the trip; shooting through the crowd, engrossed in every word uttered by Nic and their commanders.

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