How Britain Is Destroying Yemen

Since September 2014, Yemen has been the battleground for a detrimental civil war, and received devastating air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition. Yet has anything actually been achieved?


A Houthi fighter at the aftermath of an air strike in a residential area. (Photo: Reuters)

A Houthi fighter at the aftermath of an air strike in a residential area. (Photo: Reuters)

The beginning of the recent civil war in Yemen can be traced to September 2014, when rebel Houthi fighters fought and seized the Yemeni capital of Sana’a after two months of unsuccessful protesting about the removal of fuel subsidies. Then within 6 months of the capture of Sana’a, the Houthis had taken control of the majority of western Yemen. In the following March, the Saudi-led coalition air strikes began. Since then, there has been total bloodshed, with no true progress for any of the belligerents since.

The Houthi fighters originate from northern Yemen, and they follow the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam. Since 2004 Houthi fighters have been resisting and fighting against the central government of Yemen, with the aim of ending corruption, ensuring fuel prices are affordable, and ridding Yemen of American and western influence. Their hatred for America and the West stems from the American interference which allowed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down from a three decade-long presidency and avoid prosecution for crimes against Yemeni people during the 2011 Arab Spring. During his presidency, Mr Saleh fought six wars with the Houthis, resulting in thousands of deaths and casualties.

Despite their different motives and the events of the past six wars, in May 2015 former president Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his alliance with the Houthis against pro-government forces. It is believed that the Houthis joined the alliance to take advantage of and use the many security and armed forces still loyal to Mr Saleh. However it is suspected that Mr Saleh is using the Houthis as a “Trojan Horse” to get rid of the current, UN approved, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and restore his own power.

The main ground opposition to Mr Saleh and the Houthis is largely composed of government forces. Nevertheless they are supported by groups composed of ex-military personnel, tribal men devoted to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and volunteers. They have also recently received the support of the “Southern Movement” who want independence from the Republic of Yemen.

The government forces and their supporters have one major advantage: they have the support of the Saudi-led coalition, who have been launching air strikes at the Houthis and Mr Saleh’s forces for over a year now. Saudi Arabia has stated the purpose of the air strikes is to help restore a legitimate government in Yemen. They also believe that they are exercising their own right to self-defence, as nearly 400 Saudis have been killed by mortars and rockets fired from Yemen.

Despite this, the true motive of the air strikes is thought by security analysts to be in retaliation to Iran, as it is thought Iran is supporting the Houthis with weapons, training and money. The Houthis officially deny this, but some of their senior figures have allegedly been seen in Iran’s holy city of Qom and there are unconfirmed reports of Iranian pilots flying Yemeni planes.

All these belligerents have one enemy in common: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP are considered by most Western governments to be the most dangerous branch of the terrorist network. So-called Islamic State has also been able to establish a foothold in the country for the first time.

A map showing presence of military forces in February 2016. Green: Houthis, Red: Government Forces, White: AQAP, Grey: IS (Source: Ali Zifan/Wikimedia) 

A map showing presence of military forces in February 2016.
Green: Houthis, Red: Government Forces, White: AQAP, Grey: IS (Source: Ali Zifan/Wikimedia)

More than 6,000 people have died so far in this bloodstained conflict, and it is estimated civilian deaths account for nearly half of that figure. Organisations across the world are pointing fingers at Saudi Arabia and its coalition – a recent UN report attributes 60 per cent of civilian deaths to air strikes. The report also stated that  “The panel documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law.”

As pressure mounts against Saudi Arabia and its coalition, so it does against the UK. The European Parliament has called for a Saudi arms embargo, and for the UK to stop licensing weapons to Saudi Arabia. EU lawmakers have claimed that Britain has licensed over $3 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen last year.

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Foreign Minister, also told the press that British officials are in the command and control centre for Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, with access to lists of targets. The Ministry of Defence confirmed this, stating their presence is not for operational purposes but to help “on best practice targeting techniques to help ensure continued compliance with international humanitarian law.”

A child walking a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa. (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi).

A child walking a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa. (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi).

Since the start of the conflict, both IS and AQAP have grown stronger in influence and stronger in presence. IS have carried out many attacks in Yemen, including an attack killing over 130 people at a Mosque in Sana’a. The chaos in Yemen only allows them to grow stronger.

Both the Houthis and pro-government forces stand against AQAP and IS, however they still continue to create the perfect lawless environment in which they thrive. If the UK is to have any role in the Yemeni conflict, it must be to bring the Houthis and pro-government forces to the negotiation table. Can the British government not open the eyes of the Houthis and pro-government forces to the true threat these insurgents present?

By supplying missiles and weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, we are staining our hands with the blood of innocent people, and creating the perfect breeding grounds for IS and AQAP. We cannot continue to watch from drones and help fire missiles which are breaching international law.

Could you imagine if drones were flying above London, killing and destroying everything in its path with the world’s superpowers and figureheads of peace and democracy as the ones supplying the deadly explosives?

We are not helping the situation in Yemen with our guns and bombs, we are only continuing to fracture any hopes of stability and threatening our own national security. The government needs to ask itself just one question:

Does it really want to follow this path of supplying missiles to kill blameless children and go down in history as a murderous gang of faceless bureaucrats?

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