Small Wars Journal

Reassessing the Civil War in Yemen

Reassessing the Civil War in Yemen by Andrew Engel, The Washington Institute

As the Trump administration adopts a seemingly more aggressive position on Yemen's nearly three-year conflict, it should take a closer look at where the fighting is stalemated, where political progress can be made, and where urgent humanitarian action is needed.

When President Trump addressed Congress on February 28, he spoke at length about the previous month's high-profile Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, putting the spotlight back on a complicated war with many fronts. A neglected "Arab Spring" conflict, Yemen's civil war is more than just peripheral to U.S. national security. Recent threats have included incidents in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, an important global energy passageway where Houthi rebel forces have fired missiles at American, Saudi, and Emirati vessels while apparently laying mines around nearby Mokha port. In addition, the UN Security Council reported last year that local terrorist affiliate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was likely planning attacks on the West from Yemen.

Although these threats may have been mitigated somewhat by recent coastal military gains against the Houthis and heightened counterterrorism efforts, the country's deep social and geographical polarization presents even more serious long-term threats. An estimated 18.8 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, and over 10 million are at risk of famine. Prolonging the war will only exacerbate this suffering, thereby facilitating jihadist recruitment efforts. The Iranian-backed Houthis might also escalate "reforms" that mirror Tehran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, much like their revised local schoolbooks issued late last year to teach jihad against the United States and Israel.

Indeed, the longer the war continues, the less likely a political solution -- i.e., a federalist system granting Houthis and southern Yemenis greater autonomy -- can be achieved. And a besieged northern Houthi statelet would only be pushed further into Iran's orbit, lending more volume to the clarion call of jihadists in the south…

Read on.