Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 441, 22 September 2021

Yemen: Houthis continue to capture territories
Jeshil Samuel J

In the news
On 16 September, nearly 50 pro-government troops and rebels were killed after clashes in the Al-Bayda province. According to military sources, a colonel and 19 other loyalists were killed in the clashes, and the Houthis had seized a few key areas from the government forces. The Sawma'ah district and the Mukayras District in Al-Bayda have come under Houthi control as per reports. The Houthis had launched the offensive at Al-Bayda weeks in advance to assert their dominance in Central Yemen.

On 18 September, nine people involved in the killing of Al-Sammad were publicly executed in broad daylight by the Houthis. Al-Sammad was the President of a Houthi-backed political party and was killed by a Saudi-led airstrike in 2018. After a rebel-controlled court found the 9 Yemenis guilty of spying for the Saudi-led coalition forces, the public executions were carried out with hundreds of onlookers in the capital city of Sanaa.  

On 20 September, more than 30 rebels were killed in Marib after Saudi-led airstrikes hit Houthi reinforcements. The Marib region has been coveted by the Houthis for more than a year now. Despite the heavy casualties they suffer, the Houthis have continuously attacked Marib in successive waves. The rebels are also notorious for using young boys in their frontlines to soak up the enemy fire.

Issues at large
First, the incapable Yemeni government. Despite being backed by Saudi Arabia, the government under President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has done very little to gain control over territories or mending ties with the Houthis. President Hadi's apathetic nature towards numerous issues since his time as Vice-President in 1994 has often raised concerns about his leadership. The lack of a transparent system had allowed corruption to fester within the government even before the conflict began in 2014. The unchecked corruption has impacted the management of essential resources and foreign aid within the country.   

Second, the declining morale amongst government troops. Till 2020, the Yemeni military did a commendable job in deterring Houthi advances on multiple fronts. Even if they lost control over territory, the military (with the help of the local tribes) would immediately regain control over the territory. However, this will to fight has seen a decline in recent times, mainly due to the lack of funding and proper leadership in the military. The military has also adopted reactionary strategies over proactive strategies, thereby reducing the number of offensive operations.   

Third, the US withdrawal of support to the Saudi-led coalition. From the time Tim Leaderking was appointed as the US Special Envoy for Yemen (in February), the US strategy towards the war in Yemen has changed significantly. To end the dire humanitarian condition plaguing Yemen, the US decided to stop supporting the Saudi-led coalition logistically and financially. In early September, the US started removing its Patriot missile defence batteries from Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom facing numerous Houthi ariel (missile, mortar and drone) attacks in recent times. The US deciding to take a diplomatic route to solve the conflict has emboldened the Houthis.

In perspective
The distressing humanitarian conditions of the Yemeni public and the grave human rights violations committed by the Houthis have made the conflict in Yemen one of the worst the world has seen in recent years. With no sense of accountability to the Yemeni public or the international community, the Houthis have imposed their reign of terror through local courts. The tribes who oppose the Houthi rule are suppressed with an iron fist, and the public who show dissent are tortured and killed. To make matters worse, the Yemeni government still plays second fiddle to external powers and has no true voice or power of its own.

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