Yemen (2004 – first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: June 2015

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of Yemen, with the support of pro-government militias, against Houthi rebels, southern separatists and the Southern Movement, and Ansar al Sharia, associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

What (started the conflict): The government was attempting to create a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, destroy AQAP, and develop a democratic state after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Houthi rebels seek autonomy for the Zaidi Shiite population and oppose both the government and AQAP. Houthis clash sporadically with the government, Ahmars, Salafis and AQAP. The southern separatists seek to split from northern Yemen, recreating the two states that existed prior to the 1990 reunification. A 1994 civil war ended with the defeat of southern secessionist forces. Ansar al Sharia is a branch of AQAP, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP frequently claims responsibility for suicide bombings, assassinations of government officials, and armed attacks on government facilities and Houthi rebels.

When (has fighting occurred): The current conflict began in 2004 between the government and the Houthi. Yemen was also part of the Arab Spring movement in 2011, experiencing armed clashes between protestors and government forces. The uprising caused President Saleh to step down, with an immunity agreement in place. The uprising created a security vacuum in Yemen, allowing Ansar al Sharia and AQAP to seize a number of towns, and the resurgence of the Southern Movement. After President Hadi took power in 2012, his government worked to regain control of the country and negotiate political solutions through a National Dialogue Conference. In 2014, Houthi rebels clashed with government forces in Sana’a, establishing control over the city.

Where (has the conflict taken place): The Houthi are most active in northern Yemen, particularly in Sa’dah and ‘Amran provinces. The Southern Movement is most active in southern Yemen. In 2011, Ansar al Sharia and AQAP seized control of towns in Abyan province, a southern coastal province near the major port city of Aden. The government retook the area in 2012. AQAP has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in the capital, Sana’a. In 2014, clashes between Houthi rebels and government forces in Sana’a resulted in military gains for the Houthi.

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Economic Factors

 Summary

2015 In January Houthi forces surrounded the presidential palace and ousted President Hadi in a military coup. He escaped to Aden, where he reasserted his power. The conflict intensified in March as a Saudi-led coalition launched a five-week air campaign against Houthi ground forces. The Houthis took new territory in May and June. In July the Saudi coalition launched a second offensive, dislodging Houthi forces and their supporters from Aden and the surrounding governorates. In November and December, the Saudi coalition and its Yemeni allies were unable to take control of Houthi positions in Taiz governorate. The humanitarian situation worsened, partly because of blockades by both sides.

2014 The transition government that succeeded President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, following the 2011 uprising, was extremely fragile, garnering international attention for failing to protect the human rights of its citizens. The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that ended in January made many recommendations on human rights and other legal reforms, and stipulated the creation of a new federal political system that would divide Yemen into six regions. Conflict escalated significantly, with an estimated death toll of more than 1,500. In September Houthi rebel forces attacked and occupied the capital of Sana’a. A peace agreement was reached on September 21, but clashes continued and Houthi forces had captured more territory by yearend. After the prime minister resigned, a new government was formed in November. All parties to the conflict, including the Yemeni armed forces, Houthi rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), were accused of human rights abuses.

2013 The ongoing National Dialogue Conference (NDC) made progress despite numerous boycotts, protests and assassinations. In December, a number of political parties endorsed a federal state structure with increased autonomy for the south. In April, President Hadi appointed 30 new military commanders, including seven regional commanders. Hadi also removed a number of former president Saleh’s supporters and relatives from military command positions. Conflict fatalities dropped from a reported 1,106 in 2012 to 591, and there was a 21 per cent decrease in the number of internally displaced persons. However, significant violence continued as government soldiers and pro-government militias clashed with AQAP, Houthi rebels and southern separatists. U.S. drone strikes continued and gained notoriety when a strike on a wedding convoy killed 15 civilians. A number of AQAP leaders were killed or arrested. In December, AQAP claimed responsibility for an attack on a defence complex that killed 56 and injured at least 215.

2012 Although the number of fatalities declined with the end of the 2011 uprising, violence persisted. Kidnappings, assassinations, suicide and car bombings, airstrikes, drone attacks, and clashes between Yemeni security forces and militants occurred. International Crisis Group reported 1,106 deaths. Power was transferred from President Saleh to President Hadi after parliament approved controversial legislation granting  Saleh and his aides blanket immunity for “politically motivated” crimes committed in the course of official duties. Thousands of Yemenis protested, demanding accountability for the killing of protestors during the uprising. In July, progress was made in implementing the transition plan. In September, President Hadi announced that the government was ready to begin a dialogue with al-Qaeda.

2011 Yemen experienced its Arab Spring early in the year. In January, protests against the government in the capital of Sana’a turned violent when government forces clashed with protesters. An estimated 2,000 were killed. Both the Southern Movement and the Houthis joined the pro-democracy movement. In November, President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down as part of an internationally supported agreement. Vice-President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi took over. As a condition of his agreement to cede power, Saleh and his family were granted immunity from prosecution. Much of southern Yemen, especially Abyan Province, was captured by AQAP in the first half of 2011. AQAP captured the city of Jaar in March.

2010 After seven months of intense fighting, the government and Houthi rebels agreed to a ceasefire in February. Sporadic violence between Houthi rebels and pro-government tribesmen continued, killing hundreds. Under foreign pressure, the government turned most of its military attention to al-Qaeda, declaring “open war” on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in January. AQAP attacks on government and foreign targets and government offensives against AQAP killed hundreds. AQAP launched its first attacks against Houthi rebels. Continuing conflict with separatists in the south resulted in dozens of deaths. As the Yemeni government faced increased opposition from multiple fronts and al-Qaeda’s influence grew, analysts began to characterize Yemen as a failed state.

2009 Conflict at the beginning of the year was largely between government forces and the secessionist movement in the south. By August, the focus had shifted to Yemen’s northern conflict. A major offensive by the military against the rebels produced some of the most violent attacks since conflict began in 2004. In November, conflict spilled into Saudi Arabia for the first time, with the Saudis openly engaged. By the end of December, Saudi forces had suspended major military operations, but indicated their intent to hunt down small groups of rebels. The year also saw a more explicit al-Qaeda influence. Officials estimated that approximately 175,000 people had been displaced since the onset of conflict. Parliament delayed April elections for two years.

2008 The year saw some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict. Thousands of civilians were displaced when their homes and villages were destroyed. Many sought refuge in national and international aid camps, which often had inadequate supplies. A ceasefire and prisoner exchange took place late in the year. Multiparty parliamentary elections were set for early 2009.

2007 Fighting broke out between government forces and rebel group Shabab al-Moumineen (The Youthful Believers). This year the total number of casualties surpassed the 1,000-death threshold. Shabab al-Moumineen rejected the Yemeni government, which they said was corrupt and in league with the United States and Israel.

2006 More than 600 suspected followers of Shabab al-Moumineen who had been detained in 2004 and 2005 were released. September elections were generally considered free and fair, with President Ali Abdullah Saleh reelected by a large majority. Several thousand are estimated to have been killed in conflict to date, with tens of thousands displaced from their homes. An uneasy ceasefire began in June and remained in place for the rest of the year.

Type of Conflict

State Control
Failed State

Parties to the Conflict

1. The Yemeni Government: President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi of the General People’s Congress party, succeeded President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down during the 2011 uprising. In September 2014 Mohammed Basindawa, who had been serving as prime minister under President Hadi, resigned to further a UN-brokered peace agreement. Khaled Bahah was appointed the new prime minister. In early 2015 President Hadi and the cabinet resigned, but after fleeing Sana’a in February, Hadi reasserted his presidency.

Supported by

2. Saudi Arabia: A long-time ally that provided substantial military assistance, it suspended military aid in October 2013 in response to instability. With the Yemeni government, it opposed the Houthi rebels, Southern separatists, and al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia was also involved in fighting Houthi rebels along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border.

In 2015 Saudi Arabia led a military coalition in support of President Hadi against the Houthis. Coalition members included Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. The coalition launched three major operations in Yemen territory: “Decisive Storm,” “Restoring Hope,” and “Golden Arrow.”

3. Yemeni Armed Forces: Despite a 2012 defence budget of $1.63-billion (U.S.), Yemen’s conscripted armed forces are under-equipped, poorly trained and have a widespread morale problem. In 2013, President Hadi reassigned a number of high-ranking military officers associated with former president Saleh. Military forces comprise an army of 60,000, a navy of 1,700, air force of 3,000, air defence with 2,000, and paramilitary of 71,200.

4. The United States: It supported Presidents Saleh and Hadi. In August 2013 the United States resumed military aid after a year-long suspension because of alleged human rights abuses. With the rise of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the United States increased support, providing military aid, training for Yemen’s army and drone strikes. Between 2002 and January 2014 there were 85 reported drone strikes, with conservative fatality estimates of 396 militants and 99 civilians. The New America Foundation put the death toll as of April 2015 from 126 drone strikes at between 854 and 1,118. The United States backed the Gulf Cooperation Council’s transition plan that removed Saleh from power.

5. Pro-government tribesmen: Tribal militias, called “popular resistance committees,” are employed by the government to fight AQAP and Ansar al Sharia. Houthi rebels allege that the government is supporting tribesmen to attack them in the northern Sa’dah Governorate, despite numerous ceasefires and agreements. In the south, pro-government tribesmen have been implicated in fighting with separatists and have been employed by the government to hunt down al-Qaeda members.

Versus

6. Houthi (Huthi) rebels/Shabab al-Moumineen (The Believing Youth/The Young Faithful Believers): It was originally founded and run by Zaydi religious figure Hussein al-Houthi. When he was killed by government forces in 2004, power shifted to his father Badr Eddin al-Houthi and his brother Abdul Malak al-Houthi. The elder man died from natural causes in 2010. The Houthi rebels have an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 fighters. Mainly active in the Sa’dah and ‘Amran provinces, they seek autonomy for the Zaydi Shiite population. Houthi rebels oppose both the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda. The government, however, has garnered foreign support against Houthi rebels by claiming that they have links to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The Houthis are represented at the National Dialogue Conference by their political wing, Ansar Allah. Abdul Karim Jedban, a Houthi MP participating in the NDC, was killed in November 2013.

Supported by

7. Iran and Libya: Yemen alleges that both Iran and Libya have funded and assisted the Houthis; both deny this. In 2009, the Yemeni navy reportedly seized an Iranian-crewed ship loaded with weapons off the coast of a Houthi stronghold.

Versus

8. Islamic State: Islamic State first appeared in Yemen in 2014 when it announced that it was accepting pledges of allegiance from local militants. At that time, IS declared the establishment of a governorate in Yemen. Islamic State, which follows a Sunni form of Islam, claimed that Houthis were apostates for following Zaydism, a Shiite version of Islam. According to Vice Media, IS blew up a number of mosques to sow conflict between Yemen’s Sunnis and Shiites, allowing IS to gain power (Vice.com).

9. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP): Al-Qaeda has been in the region since the 1990s. In 2009, the Yemeni and Saudi branches merged to form AQAP, with a mandate is to establish an Islamic State in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP has called on tribal leaders in Yemen to oppose the government and has supported the southern secessionist movement. Sunni AQAP began launching attacks against the Shia Houthi rebels in 2010, claiming that they “kill Sunnis, destroy their homes and displace their families.” Taking advantage of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and resulting security vacuum in the south, AQAP, its insurgent wing Ansar al Sharia and local allies took control of numerous towns in Abyan. In May and June 2012, the Yemeni armed forces, with U.S. assistance, retook the towns of Jaar, Zinjibar, Shaqra, and Azzan. AQAP is considered the most lethal al-Qaeda group. The U.S. State Department estimates that AQAP now has approximately 1,000 members, a dramatic increase from 2009 numbers of between 200 and 300. AQAP and Ansar al Sharia have both been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the United States and the UN; sanctions were imposed on the AQAP leadership in 2010.

Versus

10. Hiraak/Southern Movement: Yemen’s 1994 civil war ended with the defeat of the southern secessionist movement. In 2007, however, Hiraak/Southern Movement was established, calling again for an independent southern state. While the movement was largely peaceful at first, clashes between separatist combatants, government forces and pro-government tribesmen have become increasingly violent. Hiraak includes a network of tribes that have pledged allegiance to the idea of a separate southern state. Although a small Hiraak delegation attended the National Dialogue Conference, most members of Hiraak refused to participate in what they considered illegitimate talks. The delegation wanted complete separation, but claimed they would accept two-state federalism, followed by a referendum on the future of the south. Despite gains made by the NDC after 10 months of deliberation, the outcome at the end of January 2014 did not win the full support of Hiraak, which claimed that they had not been sufficiently consulted.

Other regional groups:

11. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): The GCChas six members: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. It brokered the power-transfer deal that forced President Saleh to step down and plays a role in the democratic transition and national dialogue process that began in 2013. Yemen had been in negotiations to join the GCC.

 

Status of the Fighting

2015 On January 19-20 Houthi forces surrounded the presidential palace and captured key military posts and state institutions in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. On February 16, popular committees funded by Yemeni President Hadi gained control of Aden’s port facility, intelligence headquarters, and other state buildings.

The ongoing conflict intensified on March 19 as Houthi forces targeted Aden, President Hadi’s stronghold, causing him to flee to Saudi Arabia. Days later, a multi-state coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched “Operation Decisive Storm,” a five-week air campaign against Houthi positions and military units loyal to ex-President Saleh. Both sides employed blockades in April. The Saudi coalition launched an air and naval campaign to cut off Houthi supply lines, while the Houthis prevented aid from reaching Aden.

In April, local forces fought off an attempt by Houthi forces to capture the city of Taiz, the capital of the governorate of the same name. Houthi forces then laid siege to the city, enforcing a blockade. In July the Saudi coalition launched “Operation Golden Arrow.” According to International Crisis Group, Saudi-trained Yemeni forces handed the Houthis their first major defeat since March, capturing the Aden International Airport (International Crisis Group).

On November 16, coalition forces announced a military operation to expel Houthi forces from Taiz governorate. Houthi units repelled the attack, maintaining their blockade of the governorate’s capital. The Saudi coalition did gain ground in the north, capturing territory in the regions of Hajjah, Al-Jawf, and Marib. On December 21 coalition forces entered Sana’a governorate.

Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were active during the year. IS exploded car bombs and launched suicide attacks on Houthi mosques; AQAP took over government buildings.

2014 Armed confrontations between Houthi forces and rival tribes in the north led to hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of displaced people in July. After security forces used excessive force against Houthi protesters, Houthi rebels attacked and, after a four-day battle in September, took control of Sana’a, the national capital. Houthi forces proceeded to capture more territory, gaining control of parts of the Red Sea Coast and seizing the northern city of Arhab in December. In January 2015 Houthi forces took Yemen’s presidential palace. AQAP intensified operations against Houthi rebels and government forces. In April, after a series of government-led airstrikes against AQAP, it seized a hospital and two medical centres in Shabwa governorate in Southern Yemen. AQAP also claimed credit for 16 attacks in six Yemeni provinces between October 16 and 20, including a suicide car bomb attack on a Houthi gathering in the Qaa’ Fayd region that reportedly killed “tens” of Houthis. Independent research groups reported 23 drone strikes in Yemen by the United States between January and November 2014 as part of the campaign against AQAP. Human Rights Watch reported the human trafficking of refugees and migrants, beginning in 2006 and intensifying since 2011. Local officials were accused of complicity. The government engaged in raids against trafficking networks, but had reportedly ceased operations by July.

2013 Despite progress by the National Dialogue Conference, serious violence persisted. AQAP committed suicide bombings and assassinations. In January, the government launched a major offensive against AQAP in Baydeh and U.S. drone strikes killed at least 23 suspected militants, including second-in-command Said al-Shehri. In February, a clash between southern separatists and government forces in Aden left at least six dead and 49 wounded; violent protests spread to other governorates. In March, pro-government militias retook Batis in Abyan province. April saw a military shakeup and sporadic attacks in the south. In June, the government launched an offensive against AQAP in Hadramout that killed 10 and wounded dozens of Houthis demonstrating against the National Security Intelligence Bureau. In August, fears about AQAP temporarily closed many foreign embassies; clashes between Houthis and opposing groups resulted in scores of fatalities. In September, fighting between Houthis and Ahmars caused 60 deaths in Amran alone. A one-year ceasefire was agreed on September 14 and a committee was created to resolve the dispute between the two tribes. A tenuous truce between the Houthis and the Salafis at the beginning of October quickly broke down. Abdulkareem Jadban, a Houthi MP at the NDC, was assassinated on November 22. In December, the army attacked the funeral of a southern separatist, killing 15 adults and four children. AQAP claimed responsibility for an attack on a defence ministry complex in Sana’a that killed 56 and injured at least 215. AQAP later apologized for targeting a hospital within the complex. A U.S. drone strike that reportedly hit a wedding convoy, killing 15, led to a non-binding parliamentary agreement banning drones. Fighting between Houthis and Salafis continued.

2012 Kidnappings, assassinations, suicide and car bombings, airstrikes, drone attacks, and clashes between Yemeni security forces and militants occurred. In March, a U.S. drone strike killed five suspected al-Qaeda militants in the Shabwa governorate. In retaliation, gunmen blew up a gas pipeline. Violence in the south intensified in April, with the deployment of Yemeni counter-terrorism units and the loosening of restrictions on drone strikes. A U.S. drone reportedly killed senior al-Qaeda militant al-Quso. The army recaptured the southern towns of Zinzibar, Jaar, Shaqra and Azzan in heavy fighting. In June, AQAP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed Major General Salem Ali Qatan, commander of the military forces. In response, the government killed Salah al-Jawhari, director of the AQAP suicide bombers. Also in June, the government admitted to accidentally killing a Red Cross staff member during an airstrike. In August, the Republican Guards, led by Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, son of the former president, attacked the Defense Ministry headquarters after military units were restructured. A series of assassination attempts targeted government ministers. In mid-September, the United States sent a platoon of marines to Yemen after the U.S. embassy was attacked during protests related to the release of an anti-Islam film. Al-Qaeda urged Muslims to protest and kill U.S. diplomats. In December, two high-ranking officers in Sana’a were killed.

2011 Government forces clashed with pro-democracy protesters, leaving an estimated 2,000 dead. A June assassination attempt forced President Saleh to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. The Southern Movement in Yemen gained strength and popular support as part of the Arab Spring. By July, most government forces in the central city of Aden had been driven out of the region. Houthi rebels joined in pro-democracy protests in Sana’a. Houthis declared Sa’dah an independent province in March, when government officials fled. Houthis gained control of other towns and villages.

High-profile al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone attack in September. Parts of southern Yemen, especially in Abyan Province, were captured by AQAP in the first half of 2011. AQAP gained control of the city of Jaar in March and Zinjibar in May. In mid-July, the Yemen government began air strikes in the area, regaining some control. Abyan Province also witnessed clashes between AQAP and Southern Movement militants.

2010 Major fighting between Houthi rebels and the government ended with a ceasefire on February 12. Sporadic violence between Houthi rebels and pro-government tribes killed hundreds. In July, Houthi rebels broke the ceasefire, reportedly because the government was supporting other tribes in attacking them. Clashes at the Saudi border in November resulted in dozens of Houthi deaths; that same month AQAP directed its first attack specifically at Houthi rebels, killing as many as 40.

Responding to foreign pressure, the government declared “open war” on AQAP in January. AQAP launched attacks against the government and claimed responsibility for attacks on foreigners and international targets, including letter bombs destined for the United States but intercepted in Europe in October. The government launched military offensives against suspected AQAP strongholds, including a “manhunt” in October in which 2,500 pro-government tribesmen were given ammunition and a daily stipend to hunt down al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The government claimed to have killed as many as 30 AQAP members. An August offensive in Loder displaced 80,000 and killed civilians; a September offensive in Shawna province displaced 15,000.

2009 In August, government forces launched a major offensive against Houthi rebels, followed by some of the strongest offensives of the conflict. Iranian radio accused the Saudi air force of taking part in attacks against the rebels; Yemeni and Saudi officials denied the claims. In November, Saudi Arabia openly conducted aerial bombings on Houthi positions, after fighting spilled over the border with Yemen. Saudi forces locked down the border and Yemen’s Red Sea coastline. Major military operations by Saudi forces were suspended on December 23. In November, suspected al-Qaeda militants killed seven Yemeni security officials near the Saudi border. Open conflict erupted between government forces and the secessionist South Yemen movement in October.

2008 A violent outbreak in early January between government forces and Houthi rebels in the northern Sa’dah province killed 30. This breakdown of the 2007 Qatar ceasefire prompted the imposition of a state of emergency. In September, a double suicide car bombing at the U.S. embassy killed 18.

2007 A new wave of fighting between government forces and Shabab al-Moumineen began at the end of January, killing more than 500 in the first two months. (Previous outbreaks in 2004 and 2005 killed between 500 and 1,000, and 1,500 respectively. Casualties in 2006 were significantly lower.) A ceasefire began in June and held for the rest of the year. as Qatar attempted to assist the Yemeni government in implementing the 10-point plan.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: Between 10,476 and 11,496 militants, soldiers, and civilians have reportedly been killed since violence broke out between the government and Houthi rebels on June 18, 2004. While accurate numbers are difficult to obtain because of media censorship, most deaths are said to be military and rebel casualties. New America reported that since 2002 there have been 126 drone strikes by the United States, which have killed between 854 and 1,118, including between 81 and 87 civilians.

2015 According to the World Health Organization Yemeni health facilities reported 5,995 conflict-related deaths from March 26 to December 20 (World Health Organization).  

Refugees and IDPs: The World Health Organization indicated that the conflict in Yemen resulted in 2.5 million internally displaced people and 250,000 refugees by the end of 2015 (World Health Organization, Yemen conflict Situation report # 21, 8 December – 22 December 2015, 1).

2014 Yemen’s health ministry reported that four days of combat between Houthi militia and government forces in September killed 274 people and injured 470. Local reports indicated that the death toll might have been higher. IRIN News reported that more than 1,500 died this year. A Salafi spokesman stated in mid-January 2014 that fighting in the previous two months had killed at least 210 Salafis. According to New America, U.S. drone strikes in 2014 killed 128.

Refugees and IDPs: In 2014, the UN reported that approximately 80,000 people had been displaced by localized conflict, with most returning home soon after conflict ended. According to UNHCR, Yemen had 334,512 internally displaced persons in midyear. There were 2,514 refugees and 2,168 asylum seekers originating from Yemen, and 245,801 refugees and 9,397 asylum seekers hosted by Yemen. There were 15.9 million people (61 per cent of the population) in need of humanitarian help at yearend, according to Yemen’s 2015 Humanitarian Needs Overview.

2013 International Crisis Group reported at least 591 dead and 464 wounded. The dead included more than 75 civilians; more than 185 soldiers; and more than 331 militants, including Houthi rebels, suspected members of al-Qaeda, and southern separatists. The most deadly month was December with 111 deaths and more than 215 wounded, most from an AQAP attack on a defence ministry complex in Sana’a.

Refugees: In November, the UNHCR reported 307,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen, down 21 per cent from the end of 2012. This year, 65,000 IDPs returned south. As many as 300,000 IDPs remained in the north. In February, 8,000 people were displaced. The UNHCR also reported 2,228 refugees and 1,502 asylum seekers from Yemen, and 240,371 refugees and 5,745 asylum seekers residing in Yemen.

2012 International Crisis Group reported 1,106 deaths, including at least 213 civilians, 292 soldiers and 537 militants.

2011 More than 2,000, including 120 children, were killed and 22,000 injured in pro-democracy protests. The conflict with AQAP resulted in at least 400 deaths, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

2010 According to International Crisis Group and available media reports, between 380 and 550 people were killed. Between 195 and 281, most Houthi, died in clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government tribesmen. An additional 20 Houthi rebels were killed in clashes at the Saudi border; between 23 and 40 were killed by AQAP. Thirty-one AQAP members and 31 separatist combatants were reported dead. Approximately 100 military forces were killed: between 25 and 40 fighting with Houthi rebels, nine in clashes with southern separatists, and at least 50 by AQAP. A minimum of 25 to 41 civilians were killed.

2009 According to International Crisis Group, the dead included 67 al-Qaeda operatives, 263 Houthi rebels, 119 Yemeni troops, 73 Saudi troops, and 277 civilians (seven foreigners).

2008 No official fatality figures were available. There were reportedly more than 50 civilian deaths. The U.S. Department of State reported that 1,000 government troops were killed in May alone.

2007 An estimated 700 to 1,000 government troops died in fighting with Shabab al-Moumineen. Several hundred rebels and civilians were killed and tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes in the northern province of Sa’dah.
Political Developments

2015 In January the Houthi community opposed the federal structure of government proposed in a draft constitution tabled by President Hadi. On January 17 Houthis kidnapped a presidential adviser who was allegedly preparing to push through a six-region federal structure without Houthi consent. Four days later, the President accepted Houthi demands on the condition that the adviser would be released and the Houthis withdraw from strategic military positions. The deal fell apart a day later when Houthi forces surrounded the presidential palace and placed Hadi under house arrest.

The Aden governorate in the south declared that it would not accept Houthi rule from Sana’a in the north. The following month, more governorates in the south and west of Yemen refused to take orders from Sana’a. On February 21 Hadi escaped to Aden and reasserted his authority as president.

The UN held unsuccessful ceasefire talks with the two sides from June 15-19 in Geneva. On October 18 President Hadi accepted an offer from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to resume negotiations. Talks were held from December 15-20, with no progress. Hadi held firm to UN Security Council Resolution 2216, while the Houthi-Saleh block supported a change in government.

2014 The 10-month National Dialogue Conference (NDC), ending in January 2014, resulted in many recommendations on human rights and other legal reforms, such as creating a national human rights institution and a transitional justice law. In June a draft transitional justice law was sent to the cabinet, but, according to Human Rights Watch, no significant action was taken to account for past human rights abuses. The NDC also stipulated the creation of a new federal political system; on February 10 it was announced that Yemen would be divided into two northern and four southern regions. Most of Hiraak opposed this decision, arguing that they had not had enough say in the process. Southern separatists staged protests calling for separation. Presidential elections were postponed until 2015 to allow for the prior drafting of a constitution and a referendum.

In February the 39 countries and eight international organizations that comprise the ‘Friends of Yemen’ agreed on a new aid structure that aligned with the priorities established by the NDC. On February 26 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2140, which imposed sanctions, including the freezing of assets and travel bans for those that hindered the political transition through violence or violated international humanitarian law in Yemen. Sanctions were imposed on former president Saleh and two Houthi commanders. In September the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that urged investigation into past abuses, the passage of transitional justice legislation and the creation of an independent national human rights body in Yemen.

Houthis from the north and other tribal groups demonstrated in Sanaa to protest subsidy cuts and called for the replacement of the transitional government. Fighting broke out between Houthi militia and government forces in September. A UN-brokered peace agreement was reached on September 21; to further it, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa resigned and a new government was formed in November.However, violent exchanges persisted for the rest of the year. In January 2015 the cabinet and President Hadi resigned, however after fleeing Sana’a in February Hadi reasserted his presidency.

2013 The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) began in March, chaired by President Hadi, with 585 delegates representing various factions. Southern separatist representatives failed to return to negotiations following Eid. The original NDC deadline passed in September with no resolution to the southern conflict. In November, Abdulkareem Jadban, a Houthi MP participating in the NDC, was assassinated and the Southern conference leader, Mohammad Ali Ahmed, withdrew. On December 23, several political parties signed an agreement that granted some autonomy to the south and endorsed a federal structure. In December, in response to a drone strike that killed 15 civilians, Parliament issued a non-binding motion that banned drones. The constitution was not drafted and the NDC conference continued into 2014. UN envoy Jamal Benomar repeatedly warned against spoilers derailing the transition process and threatened sanctions. Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkul Karmen boycotted the NDC because of its failure to restructure the army; Saleh’s continued influence; and the marginalization of youth, women, and civil society.

President Hadi dramatically altered the military balance of power in Yemen in April when he appointed 30 new military leaders, including heads of seven regional commands. Most importantly, he removed Ahmed Ali Saleh, the son of former President Saleh and commander of the Republican Guards, and two of Saleh’s nephews from command positions, giving them military attaché positions outside of the country. He also removed General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as commander of the 1st Armoured Division. Many in Yemen viewed this as a strong transformative moment.

The Southern Movement organized a festival of reconciliation in January, which approximately 100,000 attended. In August, the government officially apologized for the 1994 civil war.

2012 Power was transferred to a new president. In January, Yemen’s parliament passed controversial legislation granting President Saleh and his aides blanket immunity for “politically motivated” crimes committed in the course of official duties. Thousands of Yemenis protested the legislation, demanding accountability for the killing of protestors during the 2011 uprising. President Hadi was inaugurated in February after winning elections. The south experienced some pre-election and election violence, while in Sana’a, thousands of demonstrators supported the election. In late March, tens of thousands of protestors gathered again to demand the prosecution of former President Saleh. In an attempt to rid the new government of Saleh loyalists, in April, Hadi announced the dismissal of four governors and a rotation/reassignment of 20 military officers, including President Saleh’s half-brother General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar. In response, Saleh loyalists closed down Sana’a international airport. General al-Ahmar eventually stepped down. In July, tribesmen loyal to Saleh occupied the Interior Ministry, demanding jobs in the police force. In the resulting clash with government forces at least 15 people were killed. In September, Hadi announced that the government was ready to begin a dialogue with al-Qaeda. Also in September, the government launched an investigation into alleged human rights violations during the 2011 uprising. In November, it was announced that a national dialogue would begin in early 2013; the Yemen interior minister announced that several southern groups had accepted an offer of 50 percent of the seats. In December, the president abolished the Republican Guard and the First Armoured Division in an effort to unify the military.

2011 In January 2011, following similar popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, 17,000 protesters gathered in Sana’a to demand democracy and an end to President Saleh’s rule. By February 3, 20,000 protestors supported the Day of Rage; protests turned violent when government forces clashed with protesters. In November, Saleh stepped down as part of an internationally supported agreement. Vice-President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi assumed his responsibilities. As a condition of his agreement to cede power, Saleh and his family were granted immunity from criminal prosecution. Al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone attack in September. AQAP took control in Abyan Province. Starting in March, many protests were held in the south, in support of the Southern Movement. The Houthi rebellion joined in pro-democracy protests in Sana’a.

2010 Houthi rebels and the government agreed to a ceasefire on February 12; despite continuing violence between Houthi rebels and pro-government tribesmen, President Saleh declared the war over on March 19. Prisoners on both sides were released in March and in May, Saleh announced amnesty for nearly 300 jailed Houthi rebels and Southern separatists. Houthi rebels continued to insist that the government had not kept its promises. In July, three senior Houthi leaders participated in talks with the government on political reform, although fighting broke out later in the month. In August, Houthi leaders and the government signed an agreement in Doha, laying out a timetable for implementing a previously brokered peace agreement. In November, the ruling GPC announced that the national dialogue process had failed and April 2011 elections would take place with or without opposition. In December, the GPC-dominated parliament passed electoral reform laws, sparking an opposition outcry. Anti-government protests by the Southern Movement took place throughout the year.

2009 In March, Yemen’s ruling and opposition parties voted to postpone parliamentary elections for two years. The government imposed strict limitations on media coverage of the southern conflict. One journalist was sentenced to 14 months in jail for articles allegedly harming national unity. In May, the government suspended the publication of six newspapers. A full media blackout in the north made assessing the scale of death, destruction, and displacement nearly impossible.

2008 On February 1, a deal brokered by third parties in Qatar outlined the implementation of the first agreement between the government and the Houthis. Following a revised ceasefire accord reached between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels in early August, there was an exchange of prisoners. Small outbreaks of violence continued to erupt. Steps were put in motion for 2009 multiparty parliamentary elections and international monitors.

2007 In June, the government and Shabab al-Moumineen/Houthi reached a tentative ceasefire agreement, which outlined plans for the government to reconstruct the war-affected areas while Houthi followers surrendered their weapons. Mohammed Mujur was named prime minister in April after Abdul-Kader Bajammal resigned. The government continued to accuse Iran and Libya of supporting Shabab al-Moumineen, which both governments denied.

2006 President Saleh was reelected in September. The elections were considered generally “open and genuine”; women’s groups had rallied for more women candidates for local positions. More than 600 jailed suspected Houthi supporters were released in March.

Background

Current conflicts between the government and Houthi rebels and the government and the secessionist movement in the south are rooted in related historical and political developments. At the beginning of the last century, North Yemen was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, while the south was a British Protectorate. North Yemen became an independent monarchy in 1918 under Imam Yahya Mahmud al-Mutawwakil and later one of his sons, both Imams of the Zaydi Hashemites, a Shia Muslim sect. Until the Ottomans took control in the nineteenth century, Zaydi Imams had ruled the region intermittently for 1,000 years, with Sa’dah serving as a stronghold of Zaydism in the predominantly Sunni Arabian peninsula.

In 1962 a revolution and military coup overthrew the monarchy and North Yemen became a republic. Fighting between the republican government, supported by Egypt, and loyalists of the ousted Imam lasted until 1970, killing tens of thousands. Since the coup, Sa’dah has been largely ignored by the government and remains underdeveloped. Outside the capital Sana’a, however, tribal leaders exert more power than the government does. About one-third of Yemen’s current population are Zaydis. During the 1970s Badr al-Din al-Houthi, a cleric from Sa’dah, promoted Zaydi revivalism, playing on fears that Saudi-influenced Salafis threatened Zaydi identity.

In 1967, after three years of armed conflict, South Yemen gained independence from Britain. In the early 1970s North Yemen drifted more to the political right and strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia, while South Yemen aligned itself with the Soviet Union and implemented socialist development policies. While reunification talks began as early as 1970, the following two decades saw tension between North and South Yemen, including border wars in 1972 and 1979. North Yemen continued to experience internal turmoil.

In 1990 North and South Yemen officially united to become the Republic of Yemen. Two-thirds of the population was in the much smaller northern part of the country. Tensions persisted and many southerners felt shortchanged. In 1994 civil war broke out and southern secessionist forces lost. Many of their political and economic grievances remained unaddressed; in 2007, the Southern Movement was established, calling for the reestablishment of an independent southern state.

Yemen’s reunification and civil war affected government relations with Zaydis. In 1993 Badr al-Din al-Houthi’s Zaydi revivalist movement spawned the al-Haq party and the Houthi-led Believing Youth (Shabab al-Moumineen), and his son Hussein was elected to the power-sharing government. During the civil war, the government received support from the Wahhabis, a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect in Saudi Arabia hostile to Shia Muslims. Zaydis have since maintained that the government has given the Wahhabis too strong a voice in Yemen, marginalizing Zaydis politically and economically.

In 2004 Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaydi sect, launched an uprising against discrimination and government aggression. The government alleged that the Houthis sought to overthrow the government and establish Shia religious law. After the government killed Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi in 2004, violence grew. The Houthis accused Saudi Arabia of supporting government campaigns against them; the government accused Iran of supporting the rebels.

Al-Qaeda has been in the region since the 1990s. In 2009 the local Yemeni and Saudi branches merged to become AQAP, with the intent of establishing an Islamic State in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP has called on tribal leaders in Yemen to oppose the government and has supported the southern secessionist movement. AQAP has met social and economic needs, building religious schools, providing wells and jobs. As a result, AQAP has garnered sympathy and recruits in the south. Frequent drone strikes target high- and mid-level AQAP and Ansar al Sharia members. Civilian casualties have increased support for the militants. Although Houthi rebels vehemently oppose AQAP, which is largely opposed to a Shia interpretation of Islam, the government has garnered foreign support against Houthi rebels by claiming that they have links to al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Implementation of a UN-facilitated transition plan has been met with violent and non-violent opposition from Saleh supporters, separatists, Houthis and others. Multiple political parties have advocated a federal state structure that gives increased autonomy to the south. The National Dialogue Conference that began in 2013 ended on January 25, 2014, after more than 10 months of deliberation; it made many recommendations on human rights and legal reforms, and stipulated the creation of a new federal political system that would divide Yemen into six regions. Significant progress was made on governance, structural and social issues; recommendations made to the government have thus far gone largely unapplied. The southern separatist movement rejected NDC recommendations, claiming that they had not had sufficient say in the process.

Arms Sources

Russia was the primary weapons supplier to Yemen until 2010; in 2009 Yemen made a $1-billion (U.S.) arms deal with Russia that included land, sea and air military equipment. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Russia has since halted exports. France and Australia also supplied arms in the past. In 2010 the United States increased military aid to $150-million, up from $67-million the previous year, with $34-million earmarked for “tactical assistance.” In 2013 the United States helped Yemen to procure 12 light spy planes. In the same year Yemen received arms shipments from the Czech Republic, South Africa, Spain and the United States. In 2014 it imported weapons from South Africa. The United Nations Security Council placed many of the parties to the conflict in Yemen under an arms embargo in April 2015 (SIPRI).

The United States supplies arms to Saudi Arabia. In the November 2010 Saudi attacks on Houthi targets, Saudi forces used Apache helicopters made by Boeing.

The Saudi-led coalition received weapons from major arms-producing countries. According to The Military Balance, Saudi Arabia began receiving 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from EU countries in 2008. The Saudis had 48 Apache attack helicopters and 84 F-15 attack aircraft on order from the United States and $10-billion worth of light armoured vehicles from Canada (The Military Balance, Vol 116, 364). Coalition member Qatar ordered 24 Apache attack helicopters from the United States and 62 Leopard tanks from Germany (The Military Balance, Vol 116, 363).

An oft-cited report stated that there were 60 million guns in Yemen, a country of 24 million people. A 2010 report by the German Technical Corporation (GTZ) estimated that there were 11 million guns. Yemen has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.

Amnesty International expressed concern that coalition arms had fallen into Houthi hands (Amnesty International). In February 2016 the CBC reported that Canadian-made sniper rifles shipped to Saudi forces were in Houthi hands (CBC.ca). A large segment of the Republican Guard sided with former President Saleh, taking much of Yemen’s most advanced armour with it.

A vast weapons supply means easy access to arms for rebels. The government has not competed a plan to collect arms.

Economic Factors

Poverty and underdevelopment are the root causes of the conflicts, according to Yemeni presidential advisor Abdel Karim Aryani. Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has the highest birth rate. According to 2014 reports, Yemen’s population grows 2.3 per cent per year—twice the rate of global population growth. The rate of unemployment is nearly 50 per cent in the south, where almost half the children are malnourished. Oil, Yemen’s main export, accounts for 25 per cent of GDP and 70 per cent of government revenue, but supplies are expected to run out in the next 10 years. The government began an economic reform and diversification program in 2006. The water table in the capital of Sana’a is shrinking; there are fears that Sana’a could become the first world capital to run out of water. Economic difficulties have sparked widespread unrest. Funds that should be spent on social and economic development are instead spent on the military. In 2011 Yemen’s GDP was US$37.1-billion and the defence budget was $2.04-billion. In 2013 Yemen’s GDP increased to $40.4-billion and to $45.5-billion in 2014. The defence budget was $1.85-billion in 2013 and $1.89-billion in 2014. The government estimated the cost of fighting Houthi rebels from August 2009 to February 2010 at $850-million. The unrest in 2011 caused GDP to fall 15 per cent that year and a further two per cent in 2012. Inflation was almost 15 per cent in 2012, but dropped to 9 per cent in 2014, according to The Military Balance.

Underdevelopment and economic marginalization are major factors in all the conflicts. Since the 1962 coup in Sa’dah in the northwest, the Yemeni government has largely ignored the region, now one of the most underdeveloped governorates in the country. Separatists in the south maintain that government policies have had negative economic consequences for their region. Most of Yemen’s oil reserves are located in the south, but southerners complain that the economic benefits have gone largely to the north. Al-Qaeda has gained sympathy and recruits by providing infrastructure, religious schools, weapons and a source of income to southern people. The Yemeni government formed land and employment committees for the southern governorates in January 2013, in an attempt to address grievances.

In 2010 Saudi Arabia and the United States increased development assistance to the poorest regions. The Friends of Yemen pledged more than $7-billion in assistance in 2012. However, the amount of foreign military aid Yemen receives is far greater than the amount for economic development. Saudi Arabia suspended military aid in 2013, citing instability.

The United States is the largest non-Arab donor to the ‘Friends of Yemen’ coalition, allocating $142.6-million in bilateral aid to Yemen in 2014. In May 2012 President Barack Obama signed an executive order that allowed the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S.-based assets of any individuals who sought to obstruct the implementation of Yemen’s political transition.

According to the UN OCHA, humanitarian partners only received half of the $596-million needed to provide assistance to 7.6-million people in 2014. Humanitarian partners reached more than five million people in 2013 and had helped more than 3.6 million in 2014 by September. After the 2014 Houthi takeover, Saudi Arabia suspended direct financial aid to Yemen’s government. In 2015 blockades initiated by both sides made the humanitarian situation worse. The UN stated in mid-June that $1.6-billion was required to help the more than 80 per cent of Yemen’s population that was in need of assistance. The following month, the UN warned of famine if the blockades were not lifted. UN OCHA rated the situation in Yemen as a level-three humanitarian crisis (International Crisis Group).

map: CIA Factbook

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