Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and ten other countries have been conducting a bloody airstrike campaign against the Houthi rebel forces in Yemen. The campaign, meant to counter what Saudis call the “Iranian Threat” in the Arabian Peninsula, had received limited support from the Obama Administration, but Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are now operating with a freer hand from the Trump White House.
Taiz is the site of the longest-running battle ground in the Yemen war, which began when Houthi forces took over the city on March 25, 2015. Initially, the Houthis were confronted by peaceful demonstrations which they repressed heavily, killing six demonstrators in the process. The situation rapidly developed into armed conflict when the war erupted after the Houthis invaded the south, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to launch a counteroffensive on March 26, 2015. Taiz is centrally located in Yemen, and is the country’s third most populous city. Although large parts of Taiz were reportedly liberated from Houthi dominance, the “Taiz liberation operation” was never launched with serious intent.
International financial intervention is urgently needed to protect the value of the Yemen’s domestic currency. If this support is not forthcoming in the immediate near-term the Yemeni rial faces rapid depreciation; in a country that imports nearly 90 percent of its nutritional needs this depreciation would decimate the ability of most Yemenis to purchase food and other basic necessities.
The two-year-old civil war and regional military intervention in Yemen has already helped create the world’s largest food security emergency, with millions of people currently facing starvation; a steep decline in remaining per capita purchasing power would significantly accelerate the spread of famine.
Similar to US counterterrorism efforts in Yemen under President Barack Obama, the newly minted White House administration of Donald Trump has shown little appetite to explore non-military policy options to supplement the use of American firepower in Yemen. Indeed, shortly after taking office President Trump authorized the escalation of drone strikes and special forces operations in Yemen. The Trump administration’s 2017 budget proposal to congress also outlines massive cuts in US diplomatic and humanitarian spending, even as the UN declared last month that Yemen faces the largest food security emergency in the world. Such a myopic focus on the military option in the battle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) indicates a failure to grasp why AQAP has expanded so successfully in Yemen despite well more than a decade of US counterterrorism efforts in the country.
Under the Obama administration, United States policy toward Yemen was largely driven by regional concerns and counter-terrorism initiatives, with the drone campaign targeting Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen today remaining among America’s most intense.
The Arab Spring uprisings, which reached Yemen in early 2011, complicated America’s regional relationships and seemed to sour Obama’s appetite for democratization. This became apparent in Yemen when the White House helped install a US-friendly administration in Sana’a after long-time ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted. Saleh was replaced with his own vice president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who promptly announced plans to rout Al Qaeda’s Yemen franchise.
For the past 18 months, Yemen has been going through one of the most chaotic times of its modern history. Since the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sanaa, on Sept. 21, 2014, the country has been witnessing a gradual collapse of the state, which was accelerated when President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left Sanaa for Aden and then for Riyadh. By March 2015, the Houthi rebel group was the de facto power running the country.
After 15 years of US efforts to combat terror and achieve stability in Yemen, a new study by Saferworld concludes that these efforts—as in the cases of Afghanistan andSomalia—have badly backfired. Today, Yemen requires not more military intervention, but strategies to counter corrupt and abusive government and to show its people that their security and rights matter.
Why is war a more common occurrence in some parts of Yemen than in others? Why do cities like Aden recover quickly from wars? And why do their youth rush to clean up streets and restore normalcy? Why do wars quickly cease in cities like Taiz and Ibb, but are quick to flare up over and over around Sanaa? It is basically a matter of the economy.
In the tribal North, where a war economy prevails, tribes thrive on conflicts. This contrasts sharply with the peasant tribes of central and southern Yemen that rely on an agriculture-based economy. In other words, war in Taiz hampers the agricultural economy and brings the lives of farmers to a grinding halt, while the war’s end in Amran results in unemployment and the demise of what has come to embody ‘normalcy.’