A Yemen at War

A month and hundreds of  airstrikes later, Yemen is a country struggling for life. Split between rival factions and beset by an effectively collapsed ...

May 2, 2015

A month and hundreds of  airstrikes later, Yemen is a country struggling for life. Split between rival factions and beset by an effectively collapsed government, the Saudi-led invasion, which began on March 26, continues to wrack Yemen.
For many, the conflict has been seen as the new geopolitical battleground — a new front, after Syria and Bahrain, for Iran and Saudi Arabia to fight for regional control. Given the Houthis' adherence to a Shi’a branch of Islam and Saudi Arabia's support of the Sunni government, the battle between the regional sectarian oil powers has gained major attention in the press. Nevertheless, news outlets fail to adequately cover the extensive humanitarian impact the conflict has had on the country.
Presently, millions of Yemenis are captive to the scourge of geopolitics. Whether or not everyday Yemenis agree with Houthi rhetoric is largely irrelevant. Massive bombing raids have killed hundreds in Sana’a alone, regardless of affiliation, as coalition forces attempt to smash the numerous Houthi mountain military bases and depositories of weapons supplied by the US during Saleh's regime. Access to food, water, electricity, money and safety have all, if not already gone, begun to vanish.
Presently Saudi Arabia and the coalition of Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE have established a massive blockade around Yemen. In an effort to stem military support for the Houthis, major economic restrictions have been levied on the country. As one Yemeni in the UAE stated, “The blockade affects the whole country. Despite all the fears of bombs and airstrikes, the biggest problems are food, water and fuel. People are not finding food anymore. Fuel is not existent. There’s no access to water. It’s complete economic collapse.”
For the Yemeni diaspora, the conflict has been exceptionally bleak. According to a Yemeni student in the UAE, dependents like Yemeni students, who rely on money from home, have been cut off as bank transfers are blocked. Thousands of students are without means to pay for university. And while returning home would seem to be the solution, that’s largely impossible. Flights to and from Yemen have become a rare trickle as coalition forces administer a nationwide no-fly zone and runways are repeatedly destroyed in bombing raids.
If those living in Yemen think they are going to leave the country, or seek refuge elsewhere in the region, they are out of luck. Refugees are largely being refused access to any of the nearby GCC countries. One of the last ways out is by sea and, as an NYUAD student claims, the results are shocking: “One of the biggest migrations in the world was from Somalia to Yemen, and the death rates were huge. Migrants and refugees would pack these boats. Hundreds would die. And, now, it’s happening in reverse.”
The disaster in Yemen shows no signs of conclusion. Besides the catastrophic damage caused by the blockade, bombing raids and Houthi violence, there are more problems on the horizon. The war between the Houthis and the coalition has sapped the remaining political resources of the country. Any major sign of legitimacy has vanished amid a government in exile, a rebel minority group controlling the capital and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gaining ground in the south.
The idea of any coalition ground occupation force establishing a firm government in Sana’a is ridiculous. If ground forces do attempt to do battle in Yemen, they will face the same debilitating problems the Soviets saw in Afghanistan — namely, a long, bloody and costly struggle with guerilla forces hiding in the arid mountains of the countryside. And, if the coalition somehow overcomes a guerrilla army, they will face a state-building project akin to the USA in Iraq, if Iraq had tribal discord, no oil and the world’s deadliest branch of Al Qaeda. If anything, Yemen will likely be left with an ineffective Saudi-led puppet government, too castrated to adequately control sectarian militias and terrorist groups like those of Al Qaeda and the Houthis.
As one Yemeni student said, “We [Yemenis] set to expect the worst when things go bad … and hope expectations of the worst outcomes don't play out.” At NYUAD, we are indoctrinated with the polar opposite — we laud a sort of globalist optimism that everything will turn out alright. If Yemen’s situation gives any lesson, it is that this blind optimism is wrong. Realpolitik is alive and well and, with it, the harsh reality that the world is far from smiles and holding hands. Yemen is at war.
Tom Klein is a contributing writer. Email him at
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