Small Wars Journal

When Did the War in Yemen Begin?

When Did the War in Yemen Begin? By Ruwanthika Gunaratne and Gregory D. Johnsen – Lawfare

Over the last several days Emirati, Saudi, and Yemeni troops launched an offensive aimed at recapturing the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. The port city, which accounts for 70 percent of imports into the country, is also a key source of income for the Houthis, a militia group that receives smuggled Iranian missiles and which has controlled the city and the port since October 2014. The new offensive, known as Operation Golden Victory, is only the latest and most widely-covered battle in what has been a confusing and chaotic war. Alliances disintegrate seemingly overnight and reform just as quickly; often yesterday’s enemy becomes tomorrow’s friend. But almost as complicated as determining who is fighting who in Yemen is answering what should be a very simple question: When did the war in Yemen actually begin?

A common assumption, repeated frequently by diplomats, journalists, analysts, and even the U.S. Congressional Research Service, is that the war began on March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its air campaign, Operation Decisive Storm, which became the first stage of a larger military intervention. But that is simply not true—not from a legal perspective and not from a political one. Operation Decisive Storm marked the beginning of a new phase in the war, not the beginning of the war. In fact, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the rest of their coalition partners were responding to a letter from Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, asking for them “to provide immediate support in every form and take the necessary measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people” in an already ongoing conflict…

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