Yemen civil war – All you need to know

  • The Yemeni Civil War is an ongoing conflict that began in 2015 between two factions claiming to constitute the Yemeni government, along with their supporters and allies.

BTW where is Yemen?Map_of_Middle_East

  • In the middle east region (The transcontinental region centered on Western Asia and Egypt)

Parties in the war

  1. Houthi forces controlling the capital Sana’a and forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis belong to the Shia tribesmen of North Yemen who are renowned among Yemeni tribes for their ruggedness, sharpshooting abilities, honor, and bravery in combat. 
  2. Forces loyal to the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden.
  • Others involved- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have also carried out attacks, with AQAP controlling swaths of territory in the hinterlands, and along stretches of the coast

What exactly happened?

  • On 21st March 2015, after taking over Sana’a and the Yemeni government, the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee declared a general mobilization to overthrow Hadi and further their control by driving into southern provinces.
  • The Houthi offensive, allied with military forces loyal to Saleh, began on the next day with fighting in Lahj governorate.
  • By 25 March, Lahij fell to the Houthis and they reached the outskirts of Aden, the seat of power for Hadi’s government;
  • Hadi fled the country the same day.

Added external dynamics to civil war

  • Concurrently, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched military operations by using airstrikes to restore the former Yemeni government and the United States provided intelligence and logistical support for the campaign.
  • Saudi argued that Iran had moved to Saudi Arabia’s backyard through its proxy Houthis and a military intervention was inevitable. Within days, Saudi bombers started pounding rebel locations in Yemen.
  • But after 16 months of air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions, the Saudis haven’t managed to meet any of their strategic goals.
    • Regionally, with or without the Houthis, Iran remains a powerful force.
    • The Saudi bombing may have weakened the Houthis’ firepower, but they still control much of the territories they have captured, including Sana’a.
    • Saudi Arabia’s border security has also worsened.
    • The Houthis have retaliated by staging border raids and firing rockets into Saudi villages.
    • The presence of al-Qaeda has spread in Yemen while much of the country’s northern parts has been plunged into anarchy and chaos.
  • In other words, the war has turned Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe, worsened regional security and helped terror groups, while the invader has been dragged deeper into the conflict. In such a scenario, two questions beg answers.

Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia end the war despite the setbacks?

And why is it allowed to continue a disastrous war with impunity?

West Asian Cold War

  • The Saudi interests in continuing the war are not hard to figure out. The intervention itself was a result of a Saudi-Iran Cold War.
  • Riyadh believes that Tehran is consistently trying to expand its Shia influence across West Asia.
    • Iraq has already embraced Shia rule.
    • Lebanon has the Hezbollah.
  • Saudi Arabia doesn’t want a country in its backyard to have a Shia-dominated government. If the Saudis pull out of Yemen, that would obviously strengthen the Houthi forces.


  • In today’s Yemen, there’s no proper army that could effectively challenge Houthi advances. The forces loyal to President Mansour Hadi are only a fraction of the strength of the Yemeni army till a few years ago. When former President Ali Abdullah Saleh joined hands with the Houthis, a major faction of the army did the same. Therefore, the only thing that prevents further advances of the Houthis is Saudi bombing and a blockade of Yemen.
  • So the Saudis would prefer staying the course, at least till they put together a credible force on the ground that could defend the Hadi regime, now based in the southern city of Aden. But during its course, the Saudis, given the profundity of their campaign and little regard for human cost, will push Yemen further into anarchy.

But what about US?!!


  • Generally, Western nations present themselves in the international system as guardians of human rights.
    • Libya being a recent example-in the name of defending human rights,
    • Imposed sanctions for aggression- Russia

But no such moral outrage is seen in the case of Saudi Arabia.



US Bias towards Saudi

  • Historical reasons– U.S.-Saudi cooperation goes back to the Roosevelt era when the American President promised security to Saudi King Abdulaziz in 1945 in return for oil.
  • Now U.S.’s oil dependence on Saudi Arabia has come down in recent years in the wake of the shale oil boom
  • Geopolitically, – the Americans see their support for Saudi Arabia, even in the backdrop of the carnage in Yemen, as a factor that will help them balance ties between Tehran and Riyadh. The Saudi royal family is genuinely upset with U.S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran. The kingdom fears that an Iran without global sanctions and isolation will emerge as a stronger regional rival to its interests.
  • Economically –  Saudi Arabia is too big a market for any arms exporting country to ignore. For the U.S., the world’s largest arms exporter, ties with Saudi Arabia are particularly important. Almost 10 per cent of U.S. arms exports goes to Saudi Arabia, and 9 per cent to the United Arab Emirates, an ally of Riyadh in the Yemen war.
  • So it’s clear that the international community won’t do much to stop the Saudis from pounding Yemen. No matter how hard the U.S. may talk about human rights, it won’t raise a finger against the Saudis. None other than U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged earlier this year that he had taken off Saudi Arabia from a UN list of countries/militias that kill children after Riyadh threatened to defund UN programmes.


  • But will these financial threats, Western-supplied weapons and diplomatic protection be enough for Saudi Arabia to shape the future of Yemen?
  • How long can Riyadh continue a disastrous war at a time when its own border security is worsening and economy struggling with low oil prices?
  • Besides, it’s not easy to shape Yemen’s politics from outside.
    • Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser sent thousands of troops in 1962 to Northern Yemen to back republican fighters against the royalists in a civil war. Five years later he had to withdraw the troops in ignominy.
    • The U.S. started a drone war in Yemen against al-Qaeda in 2010. One of the most powerful branches of al-Qaeda is now in Yemen.
    • Saudi Arabia sent troops to Yemen in 2009 to attack the Houthis at the request of then President Saleh.
    • Six years later, Riyadh had to send bombers to attack the same group, which now controls much of the country’s north.
  • If the Saudis and their partners in this war take the right lessons from this history, they should pull out of Yemen at the earliest, leaving the Yemenis to decide their future.