Monday, April 10, 2017

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention

This report provides material on the ongoing crisis in Yemen and the U.S. policy response.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and members of a coalition it established (hereinafter referred to as the Saudi-led coalition) launched a military operation aimed at restoring the rule of Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Prior to the start of hostilities, Hadi’s government had been gradually supplanted by an alliance comprised of the Iran-supported Houthi movement and loyalists of the previous President, Ali Abdullah Saleh (hereinafter referred to as Houthi-Saleh forces).

Despite multiple attempts by U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to broker a peace agreement, the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces continue to disagree on the fundamentals of a political settlement. After two years of war, the Saudi-led coalition would most likely resume negotiations from a position of strength. The coalition’s current offensive along the Red Sea coast seeks to cut maritime access off to Houthi-Saleh forces in the hopes that their isolation will force them back to the table.

In January 2017, the United Nations estimated that the civilian death toll in the nearly two-year conflict had reached 10,000. In March 2017, the World Food Program reported that while Yemen is not yet in a full-blown famine, 60% of Yemenis, or 17 million people, are in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations.

During the last year of the Obama Administration, U.S. policy toward the conflict in Yemen shifted toward a more nuanced approach after having initially emphasized strong support for the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign and the restoration of Hadi’s presidency. The Obama Administration called upon the parties to negotiate a political settlement directly, emphasizing that “we’re on the side squarely of the Yemeni people,” while also stressing that Saudi Arabia itself is under daily attack and has a right to defend itself. The Administration sought to work multilaterally through the United Nations to pursue a cease-fire that would—in the expressed hopes of the Administration—ultimately jumpstart negotiations toward a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict.

As those peace efforts did not succeed, some observers expect the Trump Administration to take a different approach toward the conflict by more openly trying to deter Iranian support for Houthi-Saleh forces and refraining from openly criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s conduct of the war.

In 2017, President Trump reportedly authorized an increase in U.S. airstrikes against AQAP. In early March 2017, the United States reportedly conducted over 40 airstrikes against AQAP inside Yemen, which U.S. officials said were coordinated with the Hadi government. A recent counterterrorism raid in Yemen generated debate following the death of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens. The raid also claimed the lives of between four and twelve Yemeni civilians, including several children, one of whom was a U.S. citizen. The raid was the Trump Administration’s first acknowledged counterterror operation

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