The contemporary state of Yemen was formed when the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) merged with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) in May 1990. The country did not unify successfully, however, and Yemen’s recent history is marked by political, tribal and religious conflict. In the Yemen Uprising of 2011-12, thousands of pro-democracy protesters flocked to the streets to demand the resignation of President Saleh. In November 2011, President Saleh agreed to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, but this move did not dissipate the violence. In September 2014, the rebel Houthis, said to be backed by Iran, seized control of Yemen’s capital - Sanaa. The following month, President Hadi and his government fled to southern Yemen, leaving Houthi forces in control of the North. In March 2015, in support of President Hadi’s government, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries declared opposition to the Houthi insurgents and started a bombing campaign while the U.S. provided logistical and intelligence support.
This latest front of a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, has manifested itself into the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis of all time”. Indiscriminate assaults on civilians by both sides and blockades have exacerbated the disaster, preempted multiple cholera outbreaks and have driven the population to the brink of famine. In addition, Yemen’s political volatility has enabled the growth of a virulent al-Qaeda affiliate that poses another roadblock towards peace. Often called the "forgotten war,” receiving minimal Western media coverage relative to Syria, the situation in Yemen is now catastrophic.
Primary Terrorist Presence in Yemen:
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula- This regional offshoot began in January 2009 and has since become "the most active operational franchise" of al-Qaeda beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan. Analysts rate the Yemen-based group as the most lethal al-Qaeda affiliate, not only maintaining domestic insurgency but also waging assaults on Western targets. Their prominence has reduced in recent years after AQAP’s leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi (and al-Qaeda's overall second-in-command) was killed in a US drone strike in June 2015, but the group remains active in portions of at least seven provinces The Washington Post).
Islamic State in Yemen- In March 2015, the Islamic State declared its first major attack in Yemen, after two suicide bombers killed 137 people at Shia mosques in Sanaa. The Islamic State operates training camps in some areas of the south and takes credit for attacks on Houthi-linked targets, though it has yet to carve out any areas of territorial control (ECFR). A spokesman for the Pentagon’s Central Command stated that while AQAP’s footprint is diminishing, the goal now is to prevent the Islamic State from “filling the vacuum,”(The Washington Post).
Houthi Rebel Group- whose leaders are listed as terrorist on OFAC's SDN List (the group itself is not listed), is comprised of Shiite fighters and said to be backed by Iran. It began as a theological movement preaching peace and now is notorious for its use of anti personnel landmines and human rights violations. It positioned itself against the Yemeni government when it ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. The rebel group is mainly based in the north.
Other Groups Engaged in the Conflict:
The Saudi-led Coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, began bombing Houthi-held territory to restore the internationally recognized Yemen government, and its standing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, from exile in March 2015. Its indiscriminate bombing campaigns and airstrikes have hit marketplaces, schools, hospitals, and as of late the seaport Hodeidah, severing a major source of food and humanitarian aid (Human Rights Watch). One of the coalition’s main justifications for intervening in Yemen was to protect shipping routes such as the Red Sea.
The United States and the United Kingdom both support the Saudi-led Coalition and the U.S. has conducted airstrikes of its own against AQAP. The United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials (Reuters). The U.S. provides aid, training and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition and is the largest source of military weapon sales, including cluster bombs, which are banned by most of the international community. Aside from its long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is motivated by the concern that a destabilized Yemen may become a safe haven for extremist groups.
U.S. Sanctions in Yemen:
The Yemen sanctions program implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) began on May 16, 2012, under Executive Order (E.O.) 13611 (Overview of Sanctions in Yemen).
Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Crises:
- The United Nations classifies Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Two-thirds of the nation’s 29 million people rely on international aid (The New York Times). “Every ten minutes, a child under five dies of preventable causes” (OCHA). The UN Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office reported that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes remain “the leading cause of civilian casualties.”
- There are at least 8.4 million people on the brink of famine and nearly a million people are suspected to be infected with cholera (Human Rights Watch). More than 3 million Yemenis have been displaced since 2014, according to the United Nations.
- Landmines and cluster munitions are both technically prohibited by international treaty, however HRW reports that the Houthis frequently use anti-personnel landmines and the Saudi-led coalition is reported to have used cluster munitions.
- Air, land and sea blockades by the Saudi-led coalition have severed supplies of food, medicine and fuel. Even when supplies make it to the ports, the destroyed road networks obstruct distribution and many Yemenis are unable to afford the escalating food prices (The Washington Post).
Other restrictions on Humanitarian Aid:
- Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah is the gateway for 70% of the country’s humanitarian needs, according to the UN, which has warned that its closing could cost up to 250,000 people their lives (CNN).
- Houthi forces are notorious for blocking and confiscating food and medical supplies. The group is also known to impose onerous restrictions on aid workers and interfere with aid delivery (Human Rights Watch).
- Aid workers have been kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, and killed while engaged in humanitarian operations in Yemen (Human Rights Watch).
Yemen in Recent News:
- July 20th, 2018, “Yemen’s Fleeting Opportunity for Peace” (The Atlantic)
- August 2nd, 2018, “UN envoy confirms first Yemen peace talks in two years” (The Guardian)
- August 6th, 2018, “Dozens of Dead in Yemen, And Blame Pointing in Both Directions” (The New York Times)
- August 6th, 2018, “Report: Saudi-UAE coalition 'cut deals' with al-Qaeda in Yemen” (Al Jazeera)