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.
A floating oil storage facility in Yemeni waters is on the verge of breaking or blowing up. Time is running out to raise the remaining $20 million needed for a salvage operation to prevent ecological and economic damage of historic proportions.
Amid deadlocked talks to reopen roads to Taiz city, international actors scrambled to extend UN-mediated truce ahead of August expiry; failure to extend could see return to front-line and cross-border fighting. Ahead of 2 Aug expiry of UN-mediated truce between warring parties, international efforts to secure six-month extension intensified. Huthi Supreme Presidential Council member Mohammed al-Huthi 17 July called UN-mediated truce “shocking and disappointing experience”, suggesting Huthis may not agree to further truce extension; failure to extend could see conflict parties return to front-line fighting and cross-border attacks between Huthis and Saudi Arabia. Talks over reopening roads to Taiz, key pillar of truce agreement, remained stalled, further eroding hope of extension. Parties opted for unilateral announcements that did not translate into action on ground: Huthis 6 July announced unilaterally opening 50th/60th road, north west of Taiz city; Presidential Leadership Council member Tareq Saleh next day ordered reopening of road between Mokha city and Taiz areas under Huthi control, while Southern Transitional Council leader Ayderous al-Zubaidi announced reopening of road in al-Dhale governorate. UN special envoy’s office 21 July said Huthis rejected latest UN proposal focused on opening four secondary routes in Taiz in first phase. At talks in Jordanian capital Amman, Huthi and govt military committee representatives 5 July agreed to create joint operation room to coordinate military efforts and to reduce inflammatory media rhetoric. On security front, explosion at arms depot 5 July killed at least six and wounded 32 in Lawdar town, Abyan province. Suspected Huthi shelling 23 July killed at least one child and injured ten in Taiz city. Intense military redeployments by conflict parties on key front lines, including in Taiz and Marib, signalled preparation for potential resumption of violence. Anti-Huthi factions conducted recruitment campaigns; notably, Saudi-funded Happy Yemen Brigades commenced recruitment in Abyan province and deployed to presidential palace in Aden, seat of govt and leadership council; in parallel, Southern Transitional Council continued recruitment, mostly in Aden. UN Security Council 13 July extended mandate of UN mission (UNMHA) implementing Dec 2018 ceasefire in Hodeida ports. Presidential Leadership Council 29 July announced partial cabinet reshuffle.
Adversaries of Yemen’s Huthi rebels say they will never negotiate in good faith. Others think they might, given the right mix of incentives. With a nationwide truce in place, diplomats should give the latter hypothesis a shot.
Alongside the battles over territory, the parties to Yemen’s war are embroiled in fights for control of key parts of the country’s economy. The latter struggle causes great civilian suffering. The new UN envoy should make it a central task to achieve an economic truce.
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.
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 Huthis and the government [in Yemen] both accuse one another of taking advantage of the unprecedented peace-period to buy time and prepare for a fresh offensive.
The announcement that [Yemen's President] Hadi is ceding his powers to a presidential council made up of key political and military figures with direct roles on the ground is A Big Deal.
From an Iranian perspective, their ally in Yemen the Houthis appear very close in effect to winning the war in the north, if not the entire country.
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.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group expert Peter Salisbury about the significance of a week of surprises in Yemen: first, an unprecedented truce and then Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi handing over power.
A fight for economic dominance is compounding Yemen’s humanitarian emergency and intractable war. Profiteering and manipulation by both sides risk plunging the country into a steeper decline. Within this complex conflict, the UN should pursue an economic truce just as much as a military one.
U.S. efforts to uproot al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise often overlooked the country’s mercurial politics. As part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”, Peter Salisbury explains that the sectarianism the group espoused is still rife on all sides of Yemen’s war.