War in Yemen

Recent Developments

The Saudi-led coalition has continued to wage its campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. In June 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to retake the coastal region of Hodeida, further worsening the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations, which appointed a new special envoy for Yemen in 2018, has attempted to broker a cease-fire.

The Houthis have responded to Saudi airstrikes with missile attacks on Saudi Arabian infrastructure and territory, including oil tankers and facilities and international airports. Further complicating the civil war, secessionist groups in Yemen’s south, supported by the United Arab Emirates, have clashed with the UN-recognized government forces based in Aden.

2020

January

    On 7 January, Houthi rebels shot down a drone belonging to the Saudi-led coalition, in the northeastern province of Jawf.

    On 18 January, a missile attack on a military training camp in the central province of Ma’rib killed at least 111 soldiers, while dozens were wounded. The Yemeni government blamed Houthi rebels for the attack, as there was no claim of responsibility. The strike targeted a mosque as people met for prayer, military sources told Reuters.

    On 29 January, Houthi rebels said they carried out missile and drones attacks on Saudi Aramco in the kingdom’s southern Jazan province. However, Saudi oil authorities claimed that the missiles were intercepted. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Qasim al-Raymi was killed by an American drone strike.

    On 31 January, Houthi armed forces spokesman Gen. Yahya Sarea announced that Houthi forces managed to liberate roughly 2,500 km2 of territory including the city of Naham, and parts of the governorates of Al-Jawf and Marib, from Saudi-led forces. They recaptured the entire Sana’a Governorate. The coalition forces immediately denied this claim, claiming victory and progress in these areas.“In the Nahm district, east of the capital Sanaa, the National Army managed to regain control of a number of Houthi-controlled areas,” Majli said.

February

    On 15 February, a Saudi Tornado was shot down during close air support mission in support of Saudi allied Yemeni forces in the Yemeni Al Jouf governorate by Houthis. On the day after, the Saudi command confirmed the loss of a Tornado, while video evidence was released showing the downing using a two stage surface to air missile. Both pilots ejected and were captured by Houthis according to the Saudi Coalition.The next day, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes, targeting Yemen’s northern Al-Jawf province and killed 31 civilians.

March

    On 1 March, Houthi forces captured the city of Al Hazm, the capital of Al-Jawf province.

    On 10 March, Houthis forces captured the town of Tabab Al-Bara and other portions of Sirwah District in Ma’rib Governorate in their eastward offensive towards the city of Ma’rib.

    On 30 March, the Saudi-led coalition carried out an airstrike on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The attacks came despite the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and other organizations asking to maintain ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their statement, a group of regional experts also said that all political prisoners should be released from prisons to tackle the appalling health care system, and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading in Yemen.

April

    On 5 April, at least 5 women were killed and 28 people injured when shelling hit the woman’s section of Taiz’s main prison. The shelling came from the part of the divided city controlled by the Houthis. The attack was condemned by the High Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet, who called it a breach of international humanitarian law.

    After the United Nations urged both sides to pursue peace talks in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition called a unilateral ceasefire beginning 9 April at noon, to support efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

    However, despite pledging ceasefire in Yemen, Saudi-led coalition carried out dozens of airstrikes in the span of a week. The Yemen Data Project stated that at least 106 Saudi-led airstrikes, across 26 raids in Yemen have been carried out by the Kingdom over the last week.

    On 26 April, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced it was establishing self-rule in the parts of south Yemen under their control. The move threatened to renew the conflict with the Saudi-backed Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

    By 28 April, Houthi forces said that they managed to capture eleven of the twelve districts and 95% of the Al-Jawf province with only the eastern district of Khab and al-Shaaf still being in Saudi-led coalition control. They controlled all of North Yemen except for Marib Governorate.

May

    On 11 May, the Hadi government forces attacked the separatists’ positions in the capital of Abyan province, Zinjibar. An STC official, Nabil al-Hanachi stated that they managed to “stop the attack and kill many of them”. The renewed fight between the two sides brought additional risks to the already vague Riyadh Agreement.

    On 19 May, the President of STC Aidarus al-Zoubaidi visited Riyadh for two days, in order to discuss the prolonged impasse with the Hadi government. However, the talks were extended to the eighth day on 26 May, where the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was facing a challenge to resolve the conflict between the Hadi government it sponsors and the separatists backed by the UAE. The conflict between the two sides reflected rising differences within the Saudi-led coalition, giving rise to a “war within a war” that the two are fighting against the Houthi rebels.

June

    On June 15, an airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition on a vehicle carrying civilians killed 13, including four children.

    On June 14, the STC confiscated billions of Yemeni riyals en route to the central bank in the port city Aden.

    On June 21, the STC seized full control of Socotra, deposing governor Ramzi Mahroos, who denounced the action as a coup.

    On 30 June, Houthis forces made further advances on the North of Badya and the South of Marib, seizing 400 km of terrain and inflicting 250 killed, wounded and captured Pro-Hadi Government forces.

July

    On July 2, coalition fighter jets launched scores of airstrikes on several Yemeni provinces. The operation was a response to ballistic missile and drone launchings by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia. The air raids ended a ceasefire that had been in place since April, as part of efforts to battle the coronavirus.

    On July 21, 2020, the International Organization for Migration revealed that between March 30 and July 18, over 10,000 people got internally displaced citing fear of coronavirus.

August

    On August 19, Houthi forces said they captured part of Al Bayda after they launched an offensive.

December

    On December 31, explosions and gunfire targeted Aden International Airport whilst a plane carrying members of the recently formed Yemeni government disembarked. The attack left 28 people dead and 107 others injured.[450] None of the passengers were hurt in the attack and the Yemeni cabinet members were quickly transported to Mashiq Palace for safety.

2021

February

Houthi forces launched another offensive on Marib governorate in early February with the aim of capturing Marib city. After making steady advanced in the governorate Houthis launched a three direction assault on the city with occasional ballistic strikes. Over 140,000 displaced refugees from West Ma’rib left fearing the rebels advance according to the OIM.

March

The Houthis have escalated missile and drone strikes on Marib since their offensive on the city started last month.

More than 15 missiles and explosive-laden drones have struck the city, killing civilians and provoking local and international condemnation.

Marib is the government’s last bastion in the northern part of Yemen, and is rich in oil and gas.

Background

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when Houthi insurgents—Shiite rebels with links to Iran and a history of rising up against the Sunni government—took control of Yemen’s capital and largest city, Sana’a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government. Following failed negotiations, the rebels seized the presidential palace in January 2015, leading President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to resign. Beginning in March 2015, a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of economic isolation and air strikes against the Houthi insurgents, with U.S. logistical and intelligence support.

Hadi rescinded his resignation and returned to Aden in September 2015, and fighting has continued since. A UN effort to broker peace talks between allied Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Yemeni government stalled in the summer of 2016. As of December 2017, Hadi has reportedly been residing in exile in Saudi Arabia.

In July 2016, the Houthis and the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in 2011 after nearly thirty years in power, announced the formation of a “political council” to govern Sana’a and much of northern Yemen. However, in December 2017, Saleh broke with the Houthis and called for his followers to take up arms against them. Saleh was killed and his forces defeated within two days.

The intervention of regional powers in Yemen’s conflict, including Iran and Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, threatens to draw the country into the broader Sunni-Shia divide. Numerous Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels have been intercepted in the Gulf of Aden by a Saudi naval blockade in place since April 2015. In response, Iran has dispatched its own naval convoy, which further risks military escalation between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the conflict continues to take a heavy toll on Yemeni civilians, making Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that the civilian casualty toll has exceeded 15,000 killed or injured. Twenty-two million Yemenis remain in need of assistance, eight million are at risk of famine, and a cholera outbreak has affected over one million people. All sides of the conflict are reported to have violated human rights and international humanitarian law.

Separate from the ongoing civil war, the United States continues counterterrorism operations in Yemen, relying mainly on airstrikes to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and militants associated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In 2016, the United States conducted an estimated 35 strikes in Yemen; in 2017, it conducted about 130. In April 2016, the United States deployed a small team of forces to advise and assist Saudi-led troops to retake territory from AQAP. In January 2017, a U.S. Special Operations Forces raid in central Yemen killed one U.S. service member, several suspected AQAP-affiliated fighters, and an unknown number of Yemeni civilians.

The United States is deeply invested in combating terrorism and violent extremism in Yemen, having collaborated with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Since 2002, the United States has carried out over two hundred strikes in Yemen. While Houthi rebels do not pose a direct threat to the United States, their attacks on Saudi Arabian infrastructure and territory threaten an important U.S. partner.

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