“Yemen on its Knees”: Viewing Houthi Insurgency through a Terror Prism
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 09 Feb , 2016

In the past months, Saudi led coalition forces have repeatedly conducted air raids on Houthi strongholds and hideouts. Codenamed Operation Decisive Storm, the intervention began when Hadi administration reached out for help, respecting the legitimacy of “still” government in the eyes of the eyes of the world. As Haidi slept peacefully in the capital Riyadh, Saudi warplanes turned the city into ashes, leaving nothing but bodies. There have been numerous casualties in the air raids and Saudi officials have termed it to “collateral damage”. They have been unsuccessful in reinstating Mr. Hadi as president and they haven’t been able to push back Houthi rebels from their northern strongholds. There is growing mistrust between the Yemeni people, not at the poor administration or the untrained Houthi rebels, but by the increasing rate of death and destruction of the Saudi Airforce. A military strategy which was designed to eliminate Houthi rebels and destroy their strongholds, is taking millions of civilian lives.

The coalition has now come to a conclusion that airstrikes are not just enoughand will not bring an end to the war especially in the designated time frame. With this in mind, the coalition commanders have brought up a full scale invasion of Yemen. 3000 ground troops, primarily of Saudi and Emirati nationality, with armoured support in tow landed at Aden thus beginning a ground campaign. For some this might look as a major escalation at the coalition side, but for some it is a gamble with risk. However, it is true that Houthi’s will never be able to match such fire power and military equipment, but the history never agrees with the best and the perfectly trained, better equipped, and better trained coalition force.

The past experience of superior force fighting its foe in conditions of chaotic guerrilla warfare is not entirely encouraging. History repeats itself, this situation brings war knocking on the doors of Washington. Their invasion in Afghanistan resulted in an endless battle, which too ended in stalemate and quagmire. Who’s confirms the fact that this situation will not come to Saudi led invasion force? It will be incredibly naïve for military strategists looking for a full scale invasion in Yemen. Another crucial fact is yet to understand; how will Iran react on all of this?

What will the Iranians do if their Houthi allies are seen to be staring defeat in the face? Meanwhile experts believe that Iran will not dare initiate proxy war with Saudi and the coalition force, but it’s the history which shows us that every proxy war has led into a large-scale conflict whether it’s between the with Arabs in the Persian Gulf or within the nations in African continent, Iran is never an easy nation, easy enough to back out from a war. It will be wise for Iran to show some constraint in this war. It does not want to damage its new reputation with the allies, especially with the west by supplying weapons and military aid to a rebel group that has been condemned by international community.

Moreover, Iran has a lot at its plates now. Dealing with the ISIL has already maximised military budgets for Iran. Taking on 10 other coalition members will not do good. Now piecing it together, the only one’s benefitting are the extremist groups.

Sunni fighters are pledging their support to the ISIL or AQAP and are exploiting was territories, seeking areas for their establishment, another Levant perhaps. Now US drones are no longer targeting them, they have begun increasing their attacks while strengthening the base of their organization. Islamic jihadists are the main reason as to why diplomacy, discourse, and polemics are difficult to accomplish. Like all conflicts, we have studied in the history, the war in Yemen is ever changing as new developments occur.

Well, what more concerned us today, is the growing human casualties in the entire conflict. The siege from the aircrafts from have been responsible for more deaths in the entire conflict, than any other source, either through land or by guerrilla warfare. Thousands have been killed in airstrikes, while many are reported injured, as the clashes intensifies. Hospitals are flooded with wounded and supplies are depleting rapidly. Aid has not reached even half of the people who are affected by the war, and those agencies who are charged to carry it within the zones, are unable to function due to intense fighting in the regions. Some 20 million people, or 80% of the entire population of Yemen, are in need of some kind of aid according to the United Nations. Some go to the extent of calling Saudi actions a war crime.

In late March, an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp was hit hard by Saudi air force, killing 40 civilians and leaving many injured. However, it remains undefined, Houthi soldiers were present in the camp few hours before the strike, the old saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, a cliché which supports the fact. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw has publicly stated that such airstrikes form the coalition force have violated all humanitarian laws. The law clearly states that if “an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality)”.

While this accusation, which many of the experts may term, may not only be limited to the coalition actors only, Houthi fighters too have been accused of implementing stealing relief materials such as food, water, and medical supplies. International observers consider this to be extortion.  They’ve also been accused of “unlawfully deploy[ing] forces in densely populated areas and us[ing] excessive force against peaceful protestors and journalists”.

“While war crimes are certainly important to investigate to the minutest detail, it should most definitely be done when the pot has simmered down a little bit. Both sides are now engaged in a major war in the region. It is crucial that this does not escalate out of control”, stated an unnamed senior official of the UN. 

Identifying Solutions

Unlike other conflicts between the radical Sunnis and Radical Shiites, the war in Yemen seems to be much more than the usual crusade. Policy makers have to identify solution by diminishing public mistrust, or through military action. There have already been high-level talks between multiple parties in the conflict which include the UN, the rebels, the former government, and the coalition. Although the pace of the discussion remains slow, however, the most effective way to end the war is through discussion, especially when all the parties are involved. These talks needs to involve the economic marginalization of the Shia people in Yemen and the status of Shia in the political sphere in Yemen.A simple solution, “peace talk” might force the stakeholders to give up weapons, however, peace is not that easy, especially in Yemen.There is no chance that any government will negotiate with terrorists group and would bring up a situation to ease them. It is also true that without these terrorist organizations role in negotiations, true peace cannot be achieved.

Another way to resolve the conflict, is through the uprising of the people, another Arab Spring perhaps. Just like the protestors drove away Ali Abdullah Saleh, ordinary citizens have the power to change the course of this tide. It is now up to the policy makers, how they feel about the discontent and how they can utilise this to charge up another tide. Should Houthis loose the trust of the people, and should the terrorist organizations lose support from the populations behind which they so hide, then history will show that meaningful revolutions can bring back power to its people.

The last solution, which is also currently opted one, a large scale military invasion of Yemen. The Arab League has already called for a large force of military coalition and the Saudi lead coalition has already begun to take matters in their own hands. It is now up to the policymakers to keep their heads straight, they may also use peacekeepers instead of coalition troops in Yemen, because Yemen will be no different than Afghanistan if a full scale invasion is done. The geography of this will lead to a war so fierce that would almost certainly involve regional super powers and the international powers. This is precisely how the World War began.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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