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US involvement in Yemen: “the forgotten war”

By Entre Comillas

por Flavia Poy Barrio

Joe Biden announced this week «the cessation of support for offensive operations in Yemen.» Is this a step towards the end of the «secret war» in which the United States participates? Why does this foreign policy measure matter to the world?

Yemen, a country with 24 million people, has 80% of them in a critical humanitarian situation. In 2018, an average of 505 people died every day. Currently, they’re still going through the worst famine in the world, with pandemic rates much more deadly than COVID 19, as was the case with cholera, mainly due to the destruction of sanitation and sewerage infrastructure. But, what is behind all this?

The conflict has its roots in the Arab Spring of 2011, when an uprising forced the country’s authoritarian president, Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his vice president, Mansour Hadi. Although it was expected that the political transition would bring stability, the scenario they found themselves in was filled with terrorist attacks by al Qaeda, separatist movements typical of the country, insecurity and the loyalty of certain soldiers to Saleh.

In this way, the Houthi movement (in alliance with other minorities) and many other Yemenis, took the capital in 2015 and Hadi went into exile. As is a common denominator in this type of conflict, the formation of factions was immediate. Saudi Arabia, with other Arab countries such as Egypt, Senegal, Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, allied with «western» countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France against the Houthis. Why? For fear that Iran, an ally of the opposing block, would give victory to the Houthi coalition. And from that moment on, both sides are besieging each other, as always, in internal struggles that continue to this day. 

Since then, 10% of US arms exports went to Saudi Arabia, but Trump was also not far behind and continued to support these decisions. In fact, the UN in 2019 accused the United States, France and the United Kingdom of being accomplices of the crimes in the conflict. The logic is simple: if you supply arms, the confrontation of the same people is perpetuated. If there is no transfer of weapons, you prevent them from being used to violate human rights.

So what is the United States still doing? There is ample evidence to show that U.S. arms are indeed being used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and of course many of their actions are causing civilian casualties and potentially war crimes. It is no longer just indiscriminate bombings, assassinations, arbitrary arrests, torture, and sexual violence, but also the blockade of humanitarian aid. Washington helps transport the soldiers hired by the government to fight in Yemen, and advises the Saudi High General Staff on the strategy of the war.

We can also consider that:

  1. As if the aforementioned factors weren’t enough, maybe we have not realized that the North American country could seek to prolong this conflict in order to weaken its Resistance for the purpose of serving the interests of the Israeli regime. That is, the US has interests with much deeper intentions.
  2. The constitutional authorities inherent to the president continue to exist in the United States, in which the executive is fully reliant on said position of power. This brutal use of force in fact occurs since the authorization for the use of military force that has been passed in the wake of 9/11 and that both the Obama and Trump administrations had used extensively, basically as long as it was Al Qaeda or any other associated force implicated. Is this really still necessary?
  3. Yemen is a strategic point for the passage of much of the world’s oil tankers through the Bab al Mandab Strait, which separates Africa from Asia. Is anyone surprised by the United States’ interest in this conflict?

This crisis is currently one of the most severe around the world, and I think the international community really wasn’t paying much attention to it until very recently. Maybe because we were so focused on Syria or another kind of more mediatic troubles where people definitely experienced very serious crises, but the one in Yemen right now is just as serious. If something is clearly detected, it is that there is a general lack of responsibility. And probably the biggest lesson is that we don’t know how to recognize or address it. 

In other words, what we have learned from the earlier peace processes is that there is a huge need to heavily incentivize the parties towards peace and not towards war. There was never a full commitment by the members of the Security Council or by the sponsors of the various factions to commit fully to peace. Supervision is insufficient and the general lack of awareness in us, as members of a macro society, has affected the outcomes of this crisis to a much greater extent than we realize.

I believe that the political environment often reduces life to a fictional concert that transforms society into a theater, and its own people into its spectators. And that is perhaps the essence of the problem.

Williams, P., Graham, L., Johnson, J., Scharf, MP y Sterio, M. (2020). Desenredar la crisis de Yemen. Revista Case Western Reserve de Derecho Internacional , 52 .

BBC News (4 septiembre de 2019). Guerra de Yemen: el informe de la ONU que acusa a EE.UU., Francia y Reino Unido de ser cómplices de posibles crímenes en el conflicto. URL:

BBC News (23 noviembre de 2018). Por qué hay una guerra en Yemen y qué papel juegan las potencias internacionales. URL:

Pardo, P. (4 de febrero de 2021). Biden suspende la retirada de soldados de Alemania y el apoyo a Bin Salman en Yemen. Recuperado de Diario El Mundo:

UN News (2020). Yemen: la peor crisis humanitaria del mundo quedaría sin atención por falta de fondos. URL:

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