The Huthis have taken al-Bayda, the southern approach to Marib and its oil reserves. A battle for this prize likely would not conclude the war, however. The new UN envoy should work to avert that showdown while revamping the framework for making peace in Yemen.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
Huthis intensified assault in north and consolidated control in central al-Bayda governorate, raising prospect that fighting could increase further in coming month; protests escalated in south. On military front, hostilities escalated sharply throughout month. In north, Huthis made gains in western Marib governorate and 8 Sept captured Rahabah district in Marib’s south. In strategic and central al-Bayda governorate, Huthis consolidated control, enabling offensives into Bayhan district in Shebwa governorate and Lawdar district in Abyan governorate, threatening key road interchanges and transport lines between govt-held areas; Huthis could further intensify assaults in Marib, Shebwa and Abyan in coming weeks. In Hodeida governorate, fighting took place in southern al-Tuhayta, al-Hayma and Hays districts; Huthis reportedly deployed multiple brigades to al-Tuhayta in preparation for what local forces speculate is major offensive to restore control of Red Sea coast taken by United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed forces in 2018. Huthis also continued cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). In south, Huthis 11 Sept fired five drones, three missiles at Red Sea port Mocha, Taiz governorate, reportedly injuring six soldiers. Fighting in al-Dhale governorate continued at same levels in Qataba, al-Husha and al-Masharih districts. Separately, protests escalated in Aden, Taiz, Shebwa, Hadramawt, Socotra and al-Mahra governorates throughout month; violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces, who fired live ammunition, 15 Sept left three dead during protests in Aden and Mukalla cities. Demonstrators in Aden and Hadramawt protested collapse of public services, electricity outages and currency collapse, while in Shebwa, Socotra and al-Mahra, protesters demanded withdrawal of Saudi and UAE troops. Southern Transition Council leader Aydrous al-Zubaidi 15 Sept declared state of emergency in southern governorates in response to Huthis’ inroads. Hundreds 27 Sept protested in Taiz city, blocking streets in protest at currency crash and inflation. On diplomatic front, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg 10 Sept briefed UN Security Council, stressing need for more inclusive, Yemeni-led peace process. Grundberg 15-17 Sept visited Saudi capital Riyadh, met with Yemeni President Hadi and govt and Saudi officials. Meanwhile, Yemeni Riyal fell below YR1,100 to dollar in govt-controlled areas, driving up fuel and commodity prices.
International efforts to end the war in Yemen are stuck in an outdated two-party paradigm, seeking to mediate between the Huthis and their foes. As it pushes for renewed talks, the UN should broaden the scope to include Yemeni women’s and other civil society groups.
Yemen’s terrible war grinds on, despite a COVID-19 epidemic that has deepened what was already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Stopping the fighting is urgent. Diplomats should adopt an inclusive, multiparty framework for talks to replace today’s flawed model.
A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Yemen’s anti-Huthi coalition has begun to splinter, with sharp fighting between Saudi- and Emirati-backed elements in the country’s south. With UN assistance, the Gulf monarchies should urgently broker a ceasefire as a prelude to an expanded peace process encompassing southern secessionists and others now excluded.
If anything, it is amazing how little the pandemic has affected the fighting [in Yemen].
The Huthis [in Yemen] have gone from being a relatively contained rebel movement to de facto authorities who (control) the capital and territory where more than 20 million people live.
The Houthis appear to calculate that if they win in Marib, they will have won the war for the north of Yemen while humiliating the internationally recognized president. That is a considerable prize for their side, as it would also allow them to dictate terms for an end to the war.
The good news is that there is clearly more focus on direct negotiations with the Houthi leadership in Sanaa [...] The bad news is that this hasn’t yet closed the gap between the Houthis’ and the Saudis’ positions. Until that happens, we won’t see much movement.
There are probably multiple agendas at play in Marib but the most urgent is the Houthis' belief they can take Marib city and end the war for the north [of Yemen].
The prospect of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen offers a moment and indeed a humanitarian imperative to revive a political process.
UN-led, U.S.-supported efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen have made little progress. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2021 – Spring Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to send more aid to Yemen, and push the UN to increase diplomatic outreach, especially to the Huthis, the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's report The Case for More Inclusive – and More Effective – Peacemaking in Yemen