Split in Saudi-Backed Coalition Brings More Conflict to War-Torn Yemen
Yemen’s Civil War has claimed more than 9,245 lives since March 2015; over 50% of those people were civilians. The UN has called the situation in Yemen the “world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.” As of Sunday, matters appear to have worsened, as members of the Saudi-led coalition began fighting one another in the city of Aden. The government has been temporarily seated in Aden since the Houthis, the Yemeni rebels, took over the capital, Sanaa, in 2015.
Before shooting broke out on Sunday, Aden had been relatively peaceful, making it easy for aid groups to get people the resources they need. International aid groups called for an end to fighting so that they could continue distribution. Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the United Nations, said that the organization’s relief officials were “extremely concerned by the violence that we’ve seen over the last couple of days.”
Attempts to work toward peace took yet another step back when United Nations mediator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced his resignation, the second UN mediator in less than three years to do so. The Yemen conflict, similar to conflicts in Syria and Libya, is incredibly complex, and involves non-state armed groups with links to terrorist organizations, international players seeking to gain a foothold in the region, and regional powers vying for influence to the point that the conflict has become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran (who support the Houthi rebels), making it difficult for mediators to get any type of agreement from all sides.
The Saudi-backed coalition is made up of forces loyal to the Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and a group called the Southern Transitional Council (STC), who are supported by the United Arab Emirates. Conflict broke out in light of President Hadi’s slow response to the STC’s call to dismiss his cabinet, whom the STC has accused of corruption and incompetence.
The STC is demanding secession for southern Yemen, which, in 1990, was united with northern Yemen. A high-ranking officer in the Yemeni army said that “the separatists have surrounded the palace and now control the main gate. Those inside are unofficially under house arrest at this point.”
The Houthi rebels had a similar split last month when they killed Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces had helped the rebels take over Sanaa in 2015. These broken alliances will make it more difficult for future mediators to help the country work toward peace, which means that millions of people will continue to starve, and a cholera epidemic will continue to spread, affecting up to one million people by early 2018.
Although the United States is the largest donor of aid to Yemen, they also supply the Saudi-led coalition with bombs, and US military jets refuel coalition bombers and fighter jets. Nineteen humanitarian and human rights groups have called on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to use “all diplomatic means at his disposal” to end the blockade in Yemen. The US and other international actors should push for commitments from all parties in the conflict in order to ensure that humanitarian supplies can easily be accessed by people across Yemen, and must push to restart peace talks.
If the efforts remain as they are, a letter from US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the coalition of human rights groups warn that “the breakdown in Yemen of respect for international law and the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation puts millions of civilian lives at risk, and threatens not only regional stability but also international peace and security more broadly.”