Yemeni Separatists Open New Front In Unyielding War
Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has waged war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. While the coalition has remained relatively united thus far, recent developments prove that the initial arrangement of nations and groups siding with the Saudis against the Houthis is not inalterable. Notably, members of the Yemeni separatist movement, colloquially known as al-Hirak, made significant gains in Aden, a southern port city that was blockaded by the Saudis at one point.
These separatists initially fought alongside the Saudis in a united effort against Houthi rebels, many of whom desire the overthrow President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his regime. The Houthis currently control much of the northern portion of Yemen, including its proper capital, Sanaa. The separatists have worked with Hadi and his forces at times, in efforts to keep the Houthis out of southern Yemen, where Aden, the city currently regarded as the de facto capital of the nation, is located.
Still, these Southern separatists, as they are sometimes regarded, have distinct goals for the southern territories in Yemen that naturally do not mesh well with the desires of the Hadi regime. Most importantly, the Hadi regime would like to maintain the control it possesses in southern Yemen, including control of the de facto capital, Aden. However, the separatists, upon taking control of much of Aden, demonstrated that the suspicion, distrust, and disunity that they have shared with the Hadi regime in the past still continues to dominate their actions.
As the Hadi regime continues to support unity with the North, though hoping to achieve this after Houthis have been defeated, the Southern separatists are inherently predisposed to prefer an outcome that allows the southern territories to become autonomous. This persistent, underlying source of tension, coupled with a specific catalyst, led the separatists to take action in Aden. Particularly, the Southern Transition Council, which officially represents Yemeni peoples invested in achieving autonomy in southern Yemen, was angered by the Hadi regime when it failed to shuffle its cabinet and remove Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghar.
The broader discontent with government corruption and the resultant social, economic, and political failures was quelled by the promise to orchestrate a reshuffling, and the failure to do so was essentially the last straw for many separatists. As a result of their efforts taken against the Hadi regime and its forces, the separatists have taken control of government facilities and military bases, and have “seized the last stronghold of the Presidential Guards force,” effectively occupying the area immediately outside of the presidential palace.
These developments bring the turmoil to a dangerous impasse. Indeed, the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels continues to cause humanitarian and human rights crises. Furthermore, the internal strife in Yemen is now amplified, as the government is faced with assaults from both Houthi rebels and southern separatists. With members of the Saudi coalition simultaneously worsening tensions and scrambling to facilitate order on the one hand, and the array of distinct, internal divisions within Yemen multiplying on the other, the situation seems all the more bleak.