War broke out in Yemen in 2014 when the Houthi rebels--a Shiite rebel group linked to Iran with a history of rising up against the Sunni government-- seized control of Yemen’s de jure capital and largest city, Sanaa. The Houthis are loyal to former president Ali Addullah Saleh and are demanding a new government for Yemen.
War escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched ferocious air attacks against the rebels to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Many have accused Saudi Arabia and Iran of using Yemen and its citizens to fight their own proxy war and, according to The Global Conflict Tracker, their involvement threatens to create a broader Sunni-Shia divide in the region. Numerous Iranian weapons shipments have been intercepted by the Saudi naval blockade, forcing Iran to send out their own navy. This further risks military escalation between the two countries.
Separate from the ongoing civil war, the United States continues counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, relying on airstrikes to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and militants loyal to the Islamic State. The US has also launched 200 airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthis, even though they pose no direct threat to America. However, the continued bombing of Saudi infrastructure, by these rebels, is a great threat to an important US ally.
Yemen has been dubbed by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian conflict. The Global Conflict Tracker estimates that 22.2 million people are in need of assistance in the region, with 91,600 killed since 2015, and over 2 million displaced. Yemen is facing a cholera outbreak that has affected one million people. An estimated 85,000 children have also died from starvation due largely to a refusal by the Houthis to accept United Nations aid. This situation has only been made worse by a man-made famine created by the rebels blockading of cities, with an additional 8 million at risk of famine. Global Conflict Tracker reports that all sides of the conflict have violated human rights and international humanitarian law.
Al-Jazeera claims that the campaign against the rebels, now in its fifth year, has largely failed. Houthis still maintain control of Yemen’s capital and its largest city, as well as their increasing attacks on UAE-Saudi military positions.
The attacks last month came as the rebels launched a medium-range ballistic missile and an armed drone at a military parade in Aden, a southern city in Yemen. The missile attacks killed dozens of people and a separate suicide bombing killed 10 more. The military parade that was attacked belonged to the Yemeni Security Belt Forces who are backed by the UAE. The Houthis have their very own TV station in Yemen called Al-Masirah, where they described the parade as being staged in preparation for a military move against them, thus justifying their attack. Reuters news quoted a medical and security source who stated that 32 people were killed in the attack, Associated Press put the number at 40, and Al-Jazeera placed the number of casualties at 47.
Al-Jazeera states that the Houthis sought to send a message to the Saudis and the UAE that the rebels would “hit them hard” if they are to continue military operations in the country. Other attacks have plagued the city as well; including a suicide bombing that killed 10 people and wounded 16. Also, a car, a bus, and three motorcycles laden with explosives targeted a police station according to the Associated Press. Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in a tweet, blamed Iran for the attacks, but provided no proof. Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia responded to Al-Jazeera’s requests for a comment on the attacks.
The UAE has announced plans to withdraw their troops from Yemen, stating that they will switch from a “military-first” approach to a “peace first” one. Experts are worried however that their departure will create a security vacuum that the rebels will be eager to fill. The director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University states that the resulting security vacuum is because there was no arrangement with the legitimate government or the Saudis. He went as far as to say that “without the Houthis there cannot be stability,” there is no outright proof as to whether or not he is correct and until a peaceful agreement is reached, Yemen’s state remains very much in flux.
-By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern