Yemen, also known as the Republic of Yemen, lies on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula and is no stranger to conflict. While the current Yemeni Civil War has been in full force since 2015, the country has a history of civil conflict – not the least including a 20-year war between the north and the south, before the country was united as a Republic in 1990. The present conflict not only involves competing internal factions, but is intensified by the presence of non-state actors (namely Al Qaeda and ISIS operatives); support from competing foreign powers, and an underlying humanitarian crisis that plagues the civilian population.
With the rise of the Arab Spring in 2011, protests started in Yemen asking the long authoritarian regime of president Ali Abdulla Saleh to resign. The pressure of the protests and the international community left Saleh with no option but to resign and hand over the leadership of the country to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Hadi could not manage the transition phase properly, as the country was facing security issues due to the long history of jihadist movements taking over the south and economic scarcity. Given the uncertainty of Yemen’s future under Hadi’s leadership, protests triggered once again with the Houthi movement taking control of Saana and forcing Hadi to exile in 2014. Saudi Arabia and its Sunni coalitions decided to back Hadi’s government and started a series of attacks on the Houthi’s controlled regions, as they were concerned about a shia minority group, with close ties to Iran, taking full control of Yemen.
Since then, the Yemeni civil war had been divided into three different yet intertwined conflicts:
Domestic ethnic and religious warring factions fighting for influence, resources and control;
Saudia Arabia and Iran engaging in a geo-political and diplomatic proxy war;
the international community’s fight against terrorism.
These three different conflicts left Yemen with a really complicated political landscape, making peace currently unattainable. The conflict has already resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities, millions of displaced Yemeni and tends of millions facing famine and cholera, which the United Nations has declared a major humanitarian crisis.
Yemen, Southern Arabian Peninsula
Factions: Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led government, and the Houthi armed group
Over 70,200 since 2015 (ACLED)
3.5 million displaced since 2015 (UNHCR)
Refugees & Asylum Seekers:
At least 264,921 refugees and 9,557 asylum seekers. (UNHCR)
People in need of assistance: 24 million people in need of assistance (UNHCR)
An Islamic armed movement representing 25% of the minority Zaydi sect, mainly located in north western Yemen. The movement was founded by Hussein Bader-El Din Al Houthi in 1990. In 2014, Houthis led the protests against Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government demanding his resignation. Consequently, the protests increased the tensions between the Houthis and Hadi’s government resulting in the current civil war. Houthis assert government control over Yemen. Currently, Houthis forces are based in the capital San’aa and have taken over the cities of Sa’adah, Al Hudaydah, Amran, Dahmar and Ibb.
Allegedly smuggled weapons to the Houthi rebels and providing them with diplomatic support on the world stage.
The Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi government is the current governing body recognized by the international community under the 2216 United Nations resolution. Military loyalists backed up by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition represent the current military power of Yemen fighting the Houthi-led armed forces. Currently, Hadi’s government is in control of Marib, Ataq, Say’un, Al Mukalla, Al Ghayda and Aden.
Strongly supports the government of President Hadi, predominately through aggressive air strikes against Houthi targets – though these have notoriously resulted in substantial civilian casualties
The Saudi-led coalition includes other Gulf States such as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Sudan are also supporting parties of this coalition. Despite having logistical and intelligence support from the U.S., U.K. and France, the Saudi’s have failed to recapture the capital of Sanaa from the rebels. The coalition also has apparent divisions due to its support of the southern separatists.
Outside of its involvement in the Saudi coalition, the US has also been known to engage in drone strikes against terrorist targets within Yemeni territory.
A political separatist movement based in Aden, south of Yemen. In 2018, the Southern Movement played a key role in resisting the Houthi armed forces from capturing the city of Aden which was later known as the “Battle of Aden”. The movement was strongly backed up by Hadi’s government and the Saudi-led coalition. The Southern movement has long had ambitions for its own independent state, having existed between 1967 to 1990.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the UN has tried to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to restore peace and security in Yemen. However, given the complexity of the situation, and due to the ongoing political tensions between UN member states – mainly Saudi Arabia & its allies on one end, and Iran & its allies on the others – regarding the situation in Yemen, the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a resolution to restore peace.
The jihadist organization benefited from the lack of security and political instability caused by the conflict to strengthen its position in Yemen. In April 2015, Al Qaeda took advantage of the Saudi-led airstrikes launched on the Houthis to capture the city Al Mukkala in Southern Yemen. The city was later recaptured by Hadi’s government after the UAE forces launched a successful military operation forcing AlQaeda fighters withdrawal.
Islah Party is the Houthis opposition. The group members are of different political directions but are mainly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Saleh’s loyalists. The group is against Houthis and trying to take authority over the Houthi controlled territories. Given the different political directions of the group members, the group is united against Houthis but has different political views within the group itself.
Yemen gains independence from the Ottoman Empire
Britain withdraws from the south after years of a pro-independence insurgency, and its former territories unite as the People’s republic of Yemen. A communist coup renames the south the People’s Democractic Republic of Yemen and reorients it towards the Soviet bloc. Ali Abdallah Saleh becomes president of North Yemen.
The two Yemens reunify into a single republic with Ali Abdallah Saleh as president, due to the collapse of the soviet bloc.
Civil War started in Yemen between the North and South speratist forces, which resulted in the Southern separatists defeat and the reunification of Yemen.
Protests by the marginalized Houthis minority in the north against Saleh’s forces who were backed by Saudi Arabia
Saleh stepped down with promises given by Hadi’s government to draft a more inclusive federal constitution.
Houthis advance south and took control of Sanaa.
Houthis appoint presidential council to replace President Hadi, who flees to his southern stronghold of Aden.
Islamic State carries out its first major attacks in Yemen – two suicide bombings targeting Shia mosques in Sanaa, in which 137 people are killed. Civil war breaks out in earnest as Saudi-led coalition of mainly Gulf Arab states launches air strikes against Houthi targets and imposes naval blockade, in order to halt their advance on Aden.
Leader of al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, is killed in a US drone strike in Yemen.
Hadi returns to Aden after having been in Saudi Arabia.
UN-led talks between Houthi-led forces and Hadi government are initiated. Those talks collapse a month later due to lack of progress in negotiations.
Saudi-coalition bombing kills 155 during an air raid, which strikes during a funeral procession in the capital of Sana’a.
The US carries out its first air strikes targeting terrorist operatives under President Trump. Civil conflict persists, albeit with the sides largely being at a deadlock.
UNSC adopts Resolution 2343. This further extends the sanctions in place until March 2018.
Missiles are launched by Houthi forces into Saudi territory, allegedly targeting a missile at the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Cholera epidemic breaks out, killing over 2,000 people and impacting approximately 900,000 others.
UNSC releases a presidential statement condemning and calling for further action in relation to the humanitarian situation in Yemen; this being the first strong statement produced by the Council in over a year.
UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien issues a statement, noting Yemen is “on the brink of collapse” in light of the persisting humanitarian crisis.
United States’ House of Representatives votes to draw back US military intervention in Yemen, having shown support to Saudi Arabia and conducted drone strikes throughout the Yemeni conflict.
The UN announces plan to initiate an investigation into potential war crimes occurring amidst the Yemeni civil conflict.
A $36 million dollar humanitarian aid initiative is launched by the World Bank and UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FOA) to provide immediate assistance to the millions affected by ongoing food insecurity in Yemen.
o 29 Yemeni civilians are killed in an airstrike on a hotel near the Saudi border, with the strike allegedly conducted by Saudi forces.
The Saudi-led coalition block the supply of aid into Yemen, blockading ports and air services into key centres such as Aden and the capital Sanaa. The blockade persists for three weeks.
ISIS claim responsibility for a suicide bombing in the port city of Aden, killing 7 and injuring 12.
Late November: the fragile deadlock begins to splinter. Conflict between Houthi forces and Saleh supporters heightens.
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh makes a televised speech, vowing to “turn the page” and suggesting a willingness to engage in peace talks with Saudi Arabia to end the conflict. This is seen as a controversial move to ‘sideline’ Houthi rebels.
Saleh is assassinated after Houthi fighters’ allegedly attacked his convoy at a military checkpoint near the capital, Sanaa.
Southern Yemeni separatists – backed by the United Arab Emirates – seize control of Aden.
Saudi air defenses shoot down seven ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia—three of these missiles were shot down as they flew over Riyadh. The debris kills an Egyptian resident in Riyadh, in what is the first death in the Saudi capital during the conflict. This is third time in five months that missiles have flown over Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia and UAE, two of the key protagonists in the Yemeni conflict, pledge nearly $1bn in aid for Yemen at UN donor conference. This comes a day after Saudi-conducted airstrike kills several children in the port city of Hodeidah.
The World Health Organization warns that Yemen is in significant danger of a third major cholera outbreak
A bomb kills 40 children returning by bus from a trip to the Northern Saudi governate. The Saudi coalition responsible for the bombing blames incorrect intel, and admits that it was a mistake. Munitions reports that the bomb was sold to the coalition as part of the US arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Two Saudi airstrikes leave 26 children and 4 women dead. In the meantime, Houthis recapture parts of the Hodeida province.
Pro-Hadi forces claim full control of the Sa’dah district containing Malahith. UN seeks to negotiate a cease-fire, after months of fighting around the key Houthi-held port of Hudaydah and a mounting humanitarian crisis.
Though this doesn’t mean that the UAE is taking itself out of the war entirely, with the UAE continuing to support its locally trained forces and mercenaries in coordination with its ally Saudi Arabia, this does constitute a symbolic withdrawal of its own troops. The UAE will continue to have its troops stationed out of Al-Mukalla for counterterrorism purposes.
The United Nations’ food agency and Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they have reached a deal to resume food deliveries to rebel-controlled parts of the war-torn country after suspending the aid in June. The WFP halted some aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted from vulnerable people but said it would maintain nutrition programmes for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers. The partial suspension of aid affected around 850,000 people, according to the UN. Saturday’s deal included a biometric database of civilians in need of aid to guarantee “effective and efficient distribution” and to “benefit the most needy”.