If you are an American it is likely the most you know about Yemen is that it has some starving children and people sick from cholera, and something about supplies being blocked.

It’s more than that. And yes, the US has a hand in it.

Just as the US and the Soviet Union used Central America as their “proxy battleground” during the 1980s, with one supporting the Sandinistas and one supporting the Contras, Yemen is becoming the proxy battleground for Shia Muslim Iran and the puritanical Sunni (Wahabbi) ruled Saudi Arabia. The result is the same; the nearly complete devastation of a country and massive civilian death to serve or protect the political interests of its larger, more powerful neighbors.

First the bullet points:


1. Yemen is at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula, bordering on Saudi Arabia:

Its neighbor Oman is an ethnically diverse with three sects of Islam, including Sunnis and Shias, living in peace.

2. Yemen is a developing country, and the poorest country in the Middle East. Under the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh from 1999 – 2012, Yemen was described by critics as a kleptocracy.


Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh

3. In January 2009, the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen. Many of its members were Saudi nationals who had been released from Guantanamo Bay. President Saleh also released 176 al-Qaeda suspects on condition of good behaviour, but terrorist activities continued.

Arab Spring

4. In 2011, President Saleh announced plans to amend Yemen’s constitution and eliminate the presidential term limit, in effect making him president for life. In response, fueled by the rampant corruption, poverty and unemployment in the country, Yemenis took to the streets.

5. Tawakkol Karman, the founder of “Women Journalists Without Chains,” and an outspoken advocate for freedom of the press and women’s rights in Yemen, became the international public face of the 2011 Yemeni uprising that is recognized today as part of the Arab Spring. She has been called the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” by Yemenis.

She is a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman to win the Nobel.

Tawakkol Karman in Yemen

6. In March 2011, police snipers under Saleh opened fire on the prodemocracy camp in Sana’a, killing more than 50 people. In May, dozens more were killed in clashes between troops and tribal fighters in Sana’a.

Saleh lost international support. The UN Security Council condemned the violence and called for a transfer of power. In November 2011, Saleh flew to Riyadh, and agreed to step down, signing a plan for political transition and transferring power to his Vice President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. 

Hadi, also Sunni, was formally elected president on 21 February 2012 in a one-man election.


President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi

The transitional process was part of the UN-backed Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative known as National Dialogue Conference.

A unity government – including a prime minister from the opposition – was formed, and under Hadi began the process of drafting of a new constitution, to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.

Terrorism and Rebellion

7. On the day Hadi was sworn in, a suicide attack on the presidential palace killed 26 Republican Guards. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility. Three months later a suicide bomb killed 96 soldiers in Sana’a, the country’s capital. AQAP also claimed responsiblity.  In September 2012, a car bomb attack in Sana’a killed 11 people, a day after a local al-Qaeda leader Said al-Shihri was reported killed in the south.

There was at the time a “small contingent of U.S. special-operations troops” – in addition to CIA and “unofficially acknowledged” U.S. military presence – in response to increasing terror attacks by AQAP on Yemeni citizens.

8. In September 2014, the Shia Houthis, aided by ousted President Saleh, took over the constitutional capital of Yemen, Sana’a, declaring themselves in control of the country after a coup d’état.

Houthi Rebels in Sana’a, 2015

Enter Saudi Arabia

9. In March 2015 a military intervention was launched by Saudi Arabia to support Hadi’s fledgling government. The Saudis led a coalition of nine African and Middle East countries. Code-named Operation Decisive Storm, the intervention initially consisted of a bombing campaign on Houthi Rebels and later a naval blockade and deployment of ground forces into Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has attacked the positions of the Houthi militia, who are allegedly supported by Iran, and Saleh loyalists. Fighter jets and ground forces from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain also took part in the operation.

The United States has provided intelligence and logistical support, including CIA personnel on the ground, aerial refueling and search-and-rescue for downed coalition pilots.It also accelerated the sale of weapons to coalition states.

10. On March 20, 2015, at least 137 people were killed and 357 wounded when suicide bombers, pretending to be disabled and hiding explosives under casts, attacked the mosques in Sana’a. ISIS, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility. 

Mosque attack, 2015. ISIS has claimed responsiblity.


Since the Saudi-led coalition began military operations in March, 2015, according to Human Rights Watch, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have unlawfully struck hospitals and other facilities run by aid organizations. In 2015 Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) medical facilities in Yemen were attacked four times in three months. On 10 January 2016, six people were killed and seven wounded when a hospital in Sa’ada was hit by a projectile.On 21 January 2016, an MSF ambulance was hit by an airstrike. Seven people were killed and dozens were wounded.

The aftermath of a Saudi airstrike in Sana’a

In early May 2015, Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of using US-supplied cluster munitions on at least two occasions. Cluster bombs, banned in most of the world but manufactured and sold by the US, contains 600 or more small baseball-sized explosive spheres that virtually rain down on a wide region.

After initial denials from Saudi Arabia that the Saudi-led military coalition was using cluster bombs at all, the Saudi military acknowledged using CBU-105 bombs, but claimed they were only employed against armored vehicles and not in population centers. Yemeni security officials claimed that cluster bombs were dropped in a civilian area of the Western suburbs of Sana’a, presenting photos of the bomb shells.

The American-made CBU 58A/B, the cluster bomb that struck a neighborhood in Sana’a, 2016

The Washington Post reported that Saudi Arabia “appears” to be using US-made white phosphorus munitions against Yemen, based on images and videos posted to social media. Under US regulations, white phosphorus is only allowed to be used to signal to other troops and to reduce visibility in open ground, creating a smoke-screen. It is not to be used to attack humans as it burns human flesh down to the bone, which is considered excessively cruel.

While Human Rights groups have repeatedly blamed the Saudi-led military coalition for killing civilians and destroying health centers and other infrastructure with airstrikes, the war has also blocked food imports, leading to a famine that is affecting 17 million people in Yemen.

Yemeni child under treatment for cholera.

According to a recent report by Reuters, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have been stationing naval forces in and around Yemeni waters since 2015. Western governments approved the show of military force as a way to stop arms reaching Houthi fighters.

UN reports and interviews with humanitarian agencies and shipping lines have detailed how the Saudi-led coalition’s ships are preventing essential supplies from entering some of the hardest hit areas, even in cases where vessels have been verified as carrying no weapons.

Today, more than 2,500,000 people in Yemen have been internally displaced by the fighting in Yemen. The blockade has left 78% of them in urgent need of food, water and medical aid.

Add to this the lack of safe drinking water, caused in large part by the destruction of the country’s water infrastructure, the collapse of the health system, workers in the health system who have not been paid for nine months, and conditions have come together to bring about the world’s worst outbreak of cholera, with the number of suspected cases exceeding 700,000. Over 2,100 people have died since the outbreak began to spread rapidly at the end of April 2017, the majority of them children in Houthi controlled territories.

In March, 2017, Save the Children accused the Saudi government of deliberately delaying shipments of aid for months, denying hundreds of thousands of people access to urgently-needed medical aid. In the first two months of the year, they said, the Saudi-led coalition prevented three of the charity’s shipments of medical supplies from landing at the country’s main group of Hodeida, forcing them to be rerouted and delaying their arrival by up to three months. The shipments were carrying enough aid to help around 300,000 people, including antibiotics, surgical equipment, medicine to treat diseases like malaria and cholera, and supplies to support malnourished children.

The US Deal

In May, 2017, US President Donald Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia on an official visit with the Saudi Royal family and their administration.

Failing to address the Saudi human rights record, civilian casualties in Yemen, or the blockade, President Trump stated that “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

US President Donald Trump does the sword dance with Saudi Royals.

During the visit, Mr Trump announced a $110 billion arms deal with the country, expected to be worth a total of $350 billion to the US over 10 years.

In response to a Freedom of Information request lodged by The Daily Beast it was revealed that President Trump received 83 gifts from the Saudi Royal Family, including an artwork of himself and a robe lined with cheetah fur during his state visit to the kingdom, a wool robe lined with white tiger fur, nine pairs of leather sandals and a number of swords, daggers and holsters.

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