Often overshadowed by the Syrian Civil War, in this latest edition of the International Explainers series, we take a closer look at the causes and consequences of the Yemeni Civil War.
Q: When and how did the Yemeni Civil War begin?
Like the Syrian Civil War, the origins of the latest civil war in Yemen stem from the Arab Spring. Following a mass uprising against his repressive, more than two-decade-long regime, the then-President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed to make way in November 2011 for a transitional process installing his long-term Vice-President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (see below), in his place.
However, the transitional process unraveled as an insurgent, predominantly Shiite political-religious group, the Houthi, or officially called Ansar Allah, removed themselves from National Dialogue talks. In 2014, the Houthi insurgency developed into an open military offensive against the Hadi regime, seizing much of the north, including the capital, Sana’a, in September.
After a brief ‘unity government’ between Hadi’s regime and the Houthi, the latter mounted a coup d’état in January 2015, seizing important military installations and the presidential palace. They justified this by citing the proposed federalization of Yemen into 6 regions as an attempt to marginalise them. Hadi and his supporters fled and set up a new government headquarters in the southern Yemeni city of Aden.
The Houthi also at some point during this period allied themselves with the former President Saleh and his supporters, their previous sworn enemies.
The conflict dramatically escalated in March 2015 when, having fled Aden due to the advancing Houthi, President Hadi successfully appealed for Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes against the Houthi-Saleh loyalists alliance. This is widely viewed as the official starting point of the Yemeni Civil War.
Q: Which third parties are heavily involved in the conflict?
A: Saudia Arabia leads a coalition of mainly Sunni majority Arab countries in launching air strikes against the Houthi rebels. The USA has provided logistical supplies and intelligence to this coalition, as has Britain. Through continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia, both the UK and USA have at least indirectly aided militarily the coalition air-strikes.
Saudi Arabia and the USA both accuse the Shia Islamic country of Iran of aiding the Shiite Houthi, although the Iranian government vehemently denies this.
Inevitably taking advantage of the turmoil and Yemen’s home-grown jihadists, ISIS have launched suicide bombings in the capital, Sana’a, while Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP), has seized control of a large portion of the country.
The US has long conducted drone strikes against key AQAP targets and in one if his first actions as President, Trump authorised an ill-fated ground raid on an Al-Qaeda base in Yemen, which received notoriety for killing 10-30 civilians in the action and a Navy SEAL losing his life.
Q: What is the military situation currently?
A: Although with the assistance of the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes control of the whole of Aden is now in Hadi government hands, the Houthi-Saleh loyalists retain control of much of the west of the country, including Sana’a. Hadi government-held territory consists of the south-west area surrounding Aden, the entire far-eastern part of Yemen, and some areas in the centre. However, intersecting the eastern territory and the territory the Hadi government controls comprising Aden, is ground largely controlled by Al-Qaeda.
Q: Have there been attempts to mediate the conflict?
A: Yes, several, but so far none have been successful. There have been brief ceasefires, providing opportunities for essential humanitarian aid to reach civilians and a Kuwait-hosted UN attempt to intercede in April 2016 did result in several months of talks between the sides, but nothing came of it.
Q: What have been the humanitarian consequences of the conflict?
A: In a word, catastrophic.
Yemen was already a country wracked by high levels of poverty, malnourishment and inadequate water supplies before the conflict began. The civil war has only exacerbated existing problems and added new ones into the mix.
Infrastructure, including roads, schools and hospitals has been destroyed as both sides show a disregard for civilians. By March 2017, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) was reporting at least 7,600 killed and 42,000 injured as a result of the conflict. They also found only 45% of the hospitals were functioning properly, a dire state of affairs in consideration of 4.5 million children alone being malnourished and one of the most serious cholera epidemics ever recorded.
Additionally, more than 3 million people have been displaced from their homes and it is estimated that 70% of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
Amnesty International claims they have catalogued evidence of numerous breaches of international humanitarian law during the civil war by both sides, including war crimes, and calls for a UN independent investigation to help to eventually bring to justice the perpetrators.
Q: How well-known is the conflict in the UK?
A: The Yemeni Civil War is not well-known at all – a YouGov poll earlier this year found only 37% of 18-24 year olds knew of the conflict.
Nevertheless, the UK had contributed, as of March 2017, the fourth-highest total in humanitarian aid to Yemen.