Yemen has been in a state of civil war since 2011, when, during the Arab Spring, millions of Yemenis led a peaceful uprising calling for democratic reforms which ended the 33-year authoritarian rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The transition of power led to the rise of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who continued his predecessor’s practices of repression and corruption, fueling further political unrest. In 2014, a group of Houthi rebels, who were allied with security forces loyal to former president, Saleh seized control of the capital Sana’a overthrowing President Hadi and intensifying Yemen’s civil war.
Alarmed by the takeover of the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia brought together a coalition of nine countries to offer military support for President Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition uses U.S.-made airplanes, U.S.-made bombs, and U.S. intelligence for its bombardment of Yemen. Additionally, the U.S. supplies mid-air refueling services for Saudi and Emirati bombers. These activities are a leading cause of civilian casualties in the war, in 2018, the U.N. reported an average of nearly 100 civilian casualties per week and the primary driver of the world’s largest humanitarian emergency. Since fighting began in 2015, nearly 15% of the entire Yemeni population to flee their homes. The air campaign has decimated Yemen’s infrastructure, fueling largest outbreak of cholera ever recorded: more than 1.4 million people were infected and 2,870 have died since April 2017 to end of 2018. In addition, 22 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 20 million Yemenis are hungry and 10 million are one step away from famine, and around 3.2 million require treatment for acute malnutrition.
Congress has never authorized U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. President Obama initiated American support for the war, but scaled down US involvement in toward the end of his term, including by putting on hold a major sale of precision-guided munitions. President Trump has reinstated full US backing for the coalition, doubled refueling assistance to coalition planes, and resumed the sale of PGMs. In June 2017, Congress failed to adopt Sen. Rand Paul’s joint resolution disapproving of a $510 million precision-guided munitions sale to Saudi Arabia, by the razor-thin vote of 47-53.
In November 2017, the Saudi government closed all Yemeni ground, sea, and airports in response to intercepting a missile launched from Yemen targeting Riyadh. Although in subsequent months the coalition has let aid pass, the political instability has deterred shippers, curtailing their ability to deliver food, medicine, fuel, and other humanitarian goods.
The humanitarian crisis has only worsened as the civil war in Yemen drags on. In June 2018, UAE forces launched Operation Golden Victory, a ground offensive to retake Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port, through which seventy percent of imports are received. While the Saudi-led coalition has been unable to retake the port city the U.N reported in November 2018, the warring in Hodeidah had increased to a point where operations at the port had dropped by 50% due to shipping companies being deterred by insecurity. In December 2018, a ceasefire in the city of Hodeidah was agreed to between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. The ceasefire called for the Yemeni Navy to be put in control of the port and for the Houthis to withdraw from the city. According to Reuters, the ceasefire had been broadly held, although there were a few violent clashes as the U.N. has struggled to implement the troop withdrawals.
In the spring of 2019, both the House and the Senate a historic war powers resolution (S.J. Res. 7), which would have directed the removal of U.S. armed forces from hostilities in Yemen. Instead of signing the legislation and ending U.S. military involvement in the war, President Trump vetoed the legislation.
In early July, both the House and the Senate voted to block arms deals to Saudi Arabia worth more than $8 million. These arms sales include munitions that have been linked to civilian attacks in Yemen, further exacerbating the concerns about American involvement in the conflict. The President then vetoed the three resolutions, allowing the arms deals to go through.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Congress should take every action it can to halt U.S. military involvement in the conflict and support diplomatic efforts to end the war.
But the Yemeni people can’t wait for a new president who won’t veto congressional action. Millions are on the brink of starvation and in need of humanitarian aid. The longer this civil war continues millions more will face famine, cholera, and displacement. Many international development organizations work to bring food, medical supplies, and clean water to millions of Yemeni people affected by the violence. By contributing to these organizations, you can support their life saving efforts immediately.
CARE provides essential food, water and sanitation services to 1 million vulnerable people in Yemen every month.
Oxfam America provides clean water, hygiene products, monetary assistance to help people buy food, and job training.
International Rescue Committee provides emergency aid, clean water, and medical to millions of people in Yemen.
Where Trump’s Veto Leaves the Yemen Resolution - Scott R. Anderson, Brookings Institution
How the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse – By Nicolas Niarchos, The New Yorker
Children Are Starving in Yemen. The White House Should Intervene. – By The Editorial Board, The Washington Post
Why is Yemen the World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis? - International Rescue Committee
End US Complicity in Yemen's Humanitarian Disaster - Elizabeth Warren and Ro Khanna, CNN
Avoiding the Next Yemen: Applying Hard Lessons for Security Partnerships - Daniel R. Mahanty and Melissa Dalton, Just Security