The internal war in Yemen has shifted the country’s border as two opposing forces seek to take control of the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula. The current civil war escalated after the resignation of the president amid protests that arose in the Arab Spring. Despite the president peacefully handing over power to his deputy, insurgency reappeared as some groups developed interests to exploit the weaknesses in the new presidency. The various factions formed two rival groups that fight each other to date. Although the international community rebukes the civil war in Yemen, little has been done to curb the current state, which, as many experts believe, will bring more atrocities to the poor country. Besides famine, deaths, and displacement of a significant portion of the population, one of the most outstanding effects of the Yemeni War is the reshaping of the country’s border as the fighting forces seek to control vital areas.
The current Yemen civil war is perpetrated by an insurgent group called Houthis together with some Yemeni forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthi fighters started in the early 1990s but were dormant until 2004, when they launched attacks on government forces in an attempt to pressure President Saleh to listen to their wishes (Laub, 2016). The group, which primarily consists of the Zaidi sect, says that it champions for Pan-Islamism and Arab Nationalism in the region. Nevertheless, earlier reports indicated that the group was keen to protect the Shiite Islam from the Sunni’s influences. Laub (2016) also states that the Houthis have managed to convince a significant number of Yemeni forces into their camp. Their closer ties with the Shiite in Iran have helped them to acquire weapons and medical support. In addition to fueling the internal wars in Yemen, the insurgent group, together with a section of the Yemeni forces allied to them, has launched attacks on Saudi Arabia. This action has attracted the Saudis increased involvement in the war to help in the restoration of security within its border with Yemen. The Houthis have thus provoked the attack of both internal and external forces.
Shifting of the Border
Current Yemen is a product of the 1990 unification of North Yemen and South Yemen. Since then, the country retained its unity until the eruption of the civil war, which has torn the country into two major divisions. While the Houthis control the northern part of the country, the forces loyal to the exiled President Hadi control the larger, southern part of Yemen (Laub, 2016). Although both sides claim legitimacy over the country, Mr. Hadi’s Yemen is recognized internationally by the United Nations and other Western countries. The map below shows Yemen which is split between forces loyal to President Hadi and the Houthis. As depicted in figure 1, Yemen remains far behind from attaining stability. Mr. Hadi’s government has been pushed from the Sana’a capital to form a new temporary capital in Aden in the extreme southern part of Yemen. The map also informs that the Houthis controls the majority of northern Yemen (fig. 1).Thus, the presence of rebel militias and terror groups like the Islamic States and Al-Qaida makes it improbable for Yemen to regain its lost shape any time soon.
Figure 1. Territorial Control in Yemen’s Ongoing Crisis (Martin-Vézian, Centanni, & Djukic, 2016).
As highlighted earlier, the internationally recognized Yemen has failed to retake northern Yemen from the Houthis. This failure has resulted in an increasing number of the Houthis who are determined to destabilize President Hadi’s regime. The Houthi militia has utilized its time to organize itself and recruit more members into their side. The fact that the militia group has attracted a substantial number of military personnel in their camp is perplexing. According to Lackner (2014), current estimates indicate that their number could be more than one million. Perhaps, this recent increase in their population can be attributed to the public plea for a Pro-Arabian Nationalism. Houthi leaders have been quoted on numerous occasions tying the United States government and allies such as Israel in conspiring against Yemen and other states. Such arguments, which also demand political religion in the country, appeal to most Yemenis and easily persuade them into joining the side. This act poses serious security risks in the country as it has the potential to minify the current Yemen.
The Houthis are also tactical in the war as they capture strategic cities in the country. Their capture and control of Sana’a and other cities like Sa’dah meant that they target to gain an economic advantage as these cities were previously identified as economic zones in Yemen. Their current targets also highlight their desire to gain financial strength to acquire new artillery and other supplies. This movement should serve as a stern warning to the international community to gauge the militia’s desire to grow and expand.
Many Arab countries joined the Yemeni forces to fight the rebels to defeat the Houthis’ desire to take over entire Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of this battle in its effort to uphold President Hadi’s government (Laub, 2016). Despite the collective union by the Arab allies, the insurgent groups have waged fierce war and taken more towns in their presence. The militia group together with a part of the armed forces has also fired numerous missiles into Saudi Arabia, thereby triggering a vicious battle along the Saudi-Yemeni border.
Impacts of War and Border Shift
Although the Saudi forces receive heavy funding, their lack of experience has cost hundreds of lives of their soldiers. The inefficiency of the deployed forces has made it possible for Houthis to seize more cities and push Yemen border inwards. The Houthis have equally endured significant losses due to the air raids by the United States alongside attacks by Saudi and opponent militia. Laub (2016) argues that Yemeni civilians, however, have suffered the greatest loss. It is estimated that thousands have been killed by either the Houthi or the joint militia loyal to president Hadi. The need for a stronger military action in Yemen is necessary to defeat the insurgents, who are growing in number.
Many people continue to flee their homes since the inception of the war as the Al-Qaeda and ISIS attack villages and towns. The demolition of houses across the Saudi-Yemeni border has changed the geographical appearance of Yemen. As a result, the country has witnessed an immense increase in the number of internal refugees. The United Nations has warned that Yemen faces the danger of experiencing the worst famine. The self-destruction that the war has caused to Yemen will take many years for ordinary citizens’ life to return to normalcy. The UN has called for an increase of international intervention to avert further losses and deaths in the ongoing Yemeni war.
Saudi-Yemeni Border Conflict
The Houthi and the Yemeni forces allied to it have detested the involvement of the Saudi-led forces in Yemen. The militia group has openly criticized the Saudis as being used by the United States to distract other Arab countries at the expense of the Yemenis. In showing their disapproval for Saudi Arabia’s unity pact with the foreign enemy, they have unsuccessfully tried to assassinate high ranking Saudi officials, for instance, Prince Muhammad.Laud (2016) argues that the Saudis are also against the Houthis because they are mostly Sunni as opposed to the Shiite Houthis. Following the attacks on its border with Yemen, the Saudi government was forced to destroy villages along its borders to boost security and deter further attacks on its soil.
The Role of United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is also a notable part of the military conflict. As one of the allies in the Arab coalition, Emirati forces have helped return most Yemeni coastal areas under the control of the official government. Their operations have facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid to the areas destroyed by war. Besides, the UAE agrees that the only way to end the war is to negotiate. (Al-Otaiba, 2018). Emirati troops are to participate in the massive operation aimed at taking control of Hodeidah, a port city overtaken by Houthis. However, their expanding military presence in Yemen may indicate an intention to gain control of most of the country. Also, UAE forces have carried out a number of attacks on civilians, just like Saudi Arabia (Laub, 2018). Thus, their role in the Yemen war is controversial.
As the Yemen war continues, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been criticized in their alleged role in the ongoing battle. While the Saudi government is criticized for killing innocent civilians in their missile attacks, Iran is blamed for backing the Houthis by providing them with weapons (Cormac, 2013). Many critics think that Iran’s involvement in the war is primarily perpetuated by the Iran’s desire to topple the existing regime, which is bending to the Western powers. Eritrea has also received some criticism for allegedly delivering Iranian weapons to the Houthis besides providing medical services to them. They have all, however, denied such criticism, blaming the war on internal chaos in Yemen.
As long as the international community remains silent, the Yemeni war is reducing the Yemen border at an alarming pace. The country, which was once a peaceful nation, is losing its shape and size as insurgents take control of vital cities. The intervention of Arab countries to curb the war and aid Hadi’s government has proven inefficient. Many Yemenis are waiting for the international community to normalize the situation in the country. It would be wise if the United Nation were to prove its worth by restoring the original Yemen nation.
Al-Otaiba, Y. (2018, September 12). The Arab coalition is making progress against extremists in Yemen. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/09/12/the-arab-coalition-is-making-progress-against-extremists-in-yemen/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c78f9aca6f17
Lackner, H. (Ed.). (2014). Why Yemen matters: A society in transition. Saqi.
Laub, Z. (2016, April 19). Yemen in crisis. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/yemen-crisis
Laub, Z. (2018, June 22). How the UAE wields power in Yemen. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/interview/how-uae-wields-power-yemen
Martin-Vézian, L., Centanni, E., & Djukic, D. (2016). Yemen control map & report: December 2016. Political Geography Now. Retrieved from https://www.polgeonow.com/2016/12/houthis-in-yemen-control-map-2016.html