An increase in fighting between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed, international coalition of military forces has culminated in reports of the alleged assassination of the leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen. It is believed that the US is responsible for the airstrike that led to the death of Qassim al-Rim in January. This news has been reported, and perhaps confirmed, by Donald Trump in a series of – what else – tweets. According to a report compiled by the New York Times, it is believed that Rimi, who is the leader of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed in a drone strike that took place in Wadi Abedah, located centrally in Yemen. The strike and assassination have not been confirmed by US officials nor the AQAP, however, Trump has retweeted posts that report and discuss Rimi’s death. News of the assassination comes as the United Nations Security Council sat for emergency consultations in light of increased violence in Yemen; observers reported that this past week some regions have seen the most intense fighting in three years.
The increasing violence in Yemen is cause for concern; the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that the US was “alarmed” by a recent increase in violence in Yemen. The last week has seen over forty airstrikes directed at the Houthi rebels, primarily aimed at destroying their vehicles like tanks. This comes even as the Houthis continue to gain ground in the region. The Yemeni Prime Minister of the internationally-backed and recognized government said that he believed that the continued fighting indicated that the Houthi rebels “explicit rejection of peace efforts.”
Meanwhile, Rimi’s death is one in a long line of AQAP losses. American forces have deliberately targeted the AQAP as they are one of the most dangerous local branches of al-Qaeda, due to their bomb-making abilities and deliberate targeting of the West. In general, the US has pursued a more vigorous policy of targeted killing, using airstrikes to target key figures, especially in the Middle East.
Even amidst the increasing instability, it is not entirely bad news for Yemen; even as the violence mounts, there is a glimmer of hopes elsewhere. Yemen has previously been forced to endure a coalition-imposed blockade on its international airport and rebel-held ports. This has seriously impacted trade and the distribution of humanitarian aid. It has also severely hindered the provision of medical treatment. However, the coalition has eased its blockade following international calls and it was recently declared by the Yemeni foreign ministry that seriously ill Yemenis would be able to go to Egypt and Jordan via direct flight to seek medical treatment. This change in policy highlights the power of censure by the international community.
Clearly, the situation in Yemen is untenable and is again becoming increasingly dangerous for ordinary citizens. While there has been some international intervention in the region through support for the Saudi-led coalition, efforts must not be directed towards establishing peace rather than supporting varied military interests. There must be a greater effort to pursue peace agreements, and the international community should extend tactics used to lift the blockade to also end the current conflict. Moreover, a policy of targeted killing using airstrikes by nations – primarily the US – must stop; it violates numerous human rights and turns nations into executioners even as they violate important precepts of sovereignty.