The war in Yemen, which escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has turned a poor country into a humanitarian catastrophe: hunger and fighting could provoke mass famine and waves of refugees; the conflict could destabilise Saudi Arabia; and both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence, derailing UN peace talks. Crisis Group’s focus is on the negotiations: introducing ourselves at key points, shaping the debate, proposing solutions and encouraging stakeholders to modify positions based on our analysis. Concerted effort is required to convince the parties to accept the UN’s roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end foreign intervention and allow Yemenis to make peace.
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.
Southern separatists aligned with United Arab Emirates (UAE) seized city of Aden from govt forces 10 Aug and moved to consolidate control across south, raising risk that violence escalates in Sept between opposed factions in south. Fighting triggered by Huthi missile strike in Aden in south 1 Aug that killed Munir al-Mashali, commander of UAE-trained Security Belt force and prominent figure in separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), and 29 other officers; STC alleged that members of Saudi-backed Islamist Islah faction facilitated strike. After reports emerged 7 Aug that President Hadi’s guards had fired at people attending al-Mashali’s funeral in Aden, STC launched offensive on city same day. STC 10 Aug said it had taken control of city, which govt confirmed. Fighting left at least 40 dead. Separatists sought to consolidate control elsewhere in south: in Abyan governorate, pro-STC Security Belt fighters 19 Aug seized military base in Zinjibar and 20 Aug captured al-Kawad military camp. Govt launched counterattacks, regaining bases in Shebwa governorate and control of Zinjibar. Govt forces 28 Aug moved on Aden, prompting clashes in eastern part. Saudi Arabia, which opposes Yemen’s partition, 12 Aug called for talks in Saudi city of Jeddah. STC 15 Aug said it would attend talks, but would not cede Aden unless Islah and northerners were removed from powerful positions in govt. Govt 20 Aug refused to participate in dialogue with STC unless latter retreated from Aden. UAE same day rejected govt’s accusations that it had supported separatists’ capture of Aden. Govt 29 Aug accused UAE of airstrike that killed 30 govt troops between Abyan and Aden; UAE same day claimed responsibility for airstrikes but said they targeted “terrorist militias”. Huthis drones 9 Aug targeted Abha airport in Saudi Arabia; airstrike 17 Aug started fire at Shaybah oil field near UAE border, prompting coalition airstrikes around Sanaa same day and around Saada 20 Aug. Huthis claimed to have made advances in north near Saudi border, including attack on coalition soldiers in Kitaf, Saada.
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.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to stop fighting around Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeida is faltering as violence on other front lines and across the Saudi border escalates. The UN and P5 should stabilise the Stockholm Agreement and push conflict parties toward national peace talks.
Two successive U.S. administrations have backed the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen, helping deepen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Congress should continue pressing the White House to end this support, while working to strengthen its war powers role in the future.
A Saudi-led coalition attack on the city of Hodeida risks plunging millions of Yemenis into famine and will meet fierce resistance from Huthi rebels. The U.S. should stop enabling coalition offensives and international stakeholders must quickly place Hodeida under UN control.
More than three years into Yemen’s war, a bloody battle looms for the Huthi-held port city of Hodeida. International leaders should work for a UN-led negotiated settlement to stop the offensive and, if this fails, take steps to avoid deepening what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have allied with distinct Yemeni partners. Yet to this point in the conflict, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have worked to maintain a relative detente between competing interests in the south.
The problem right now from the perspective of ending the [Yemen] war is that Saudi Arabia and to an extent the Trump administration are unwilling to do so without a tangible ‘win’ for Riyadh.
[Al Qaida in Yemen has] become much more focused on integrating with local spheres and much less focused on the brand-name, big-ticket attacks.
Saudi Arabia may feel that they still need a ‘win’ in Yemen, whatever that looks like to them, in order to pivot more clearly toward talks.
There has been a great deal of speculation around the reported UAE drawdown in Yemen. UAE objective has been consistent for 2 years: wind down involvement in the Huthi conflict.
There have been delays, obstacles, and backtracking, but what is unchanged is that the parties [in Yemen] still view the [Sweden] agreement as their best option.
A Houthi missile or drone strike aimed at Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Red Sea shipping lanes could spark a broader conflict involving the United States, its Gulf allies and Iran.
Originally published in The New York Times
This is International Crisis Group’s eleventh regular update on the war in Yemen. This week, we focus on the first step towards force redeployments in Hodeida and the response of the UN Security Council.
This is Crisis Group’s tenth update on recent developments in Yemen, focusing on al-Dhale in the south. A ceasefire in Hodeida notwithstanding, violence is on the rise on other key front lines and could undermine prospects for a future peace process.
This is the ninth briefing note in Crisis Group’s Yemen Campaign. Notes are published fortnightly. This week, we return to the UN’s efforts to make the Hodeida agreement stick.
After visiting Aden with a Crisis Group team doing field research and advocacy in Yemen’s interim capital, our Yemen expert Peter Salisbury shares his images of a city struggling to get back on its feet nearly four years after Huthi forces were pushed out.