The conflict in Yemen continues to escalate as the US carries out new strikes against Houthi rebels. On February 1st, US forces destroyed 10 Houthi drones and a drone control station in western Yemen, stating it was an act of “self-defense” amid heightened tensions.
Recent Attacks and US Response
Over the past week, the US and allied forces have stepped up actions against the Houthis after increased attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
On January 30th, the USS Carney, a US Navy destroyer, shot down 3 Iranian drones and 1 anti-ship ballistic missile fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. US Central Command called the destroyed drones “one-way attack drones laden with explosives, demonstrating an intent to imminently execute naval attacks.”
This followed drone and missile attacks on January 26th which were intercepted by the USS Winston Churchill before they could hit a convoy of ships. According to US officials, evidence suggests the Houthis are receiving drones and weapons from Iran.
In response to the attacks, the US and UK have conducted airstrikes on Houthi targets over the past several days:
- On January 31st, the US conducted “precision defensive strikes” at Houthi missile launch sites.
- On February 1st, US jets destroyed 10 Houthi drones that were preparing to launch attacks on regional targets. The drones were described as “one-way attack” drones that could not return after being launched on kamikaze-style missions.
Impact on Civilians
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence in Yemen’s civil war. Last week saw a dramatic escalation with over 60 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured, and many are struggling to reach hospitals due to infrastructure damage.
Aid groups warn that civilian areas such as schools and hospitals are at risk from airstrikes by both Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces. Additionally, restrictions on imports are worsening food shortages. An estimated 19 million Yemenis are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity in the first half of 2024.
World leaders are divided on the appropriate response to contain rising tensions between the Houthis and Saudi-led coalition. Some applaud the US strikes as justified acts of self-defense, while others argue the violence will only strengthen the Houthis and prolong conflict.
Overall there is growing pressure for a diplomatic solution. The UN special envoy recently proposed a nationwide 2-month truce and the opening of roads to the besieged city of Taiz. However, neither the Houthis nor Saudi Arabia have formally responded to the proposal.
Background and Lead Up to Recent Events
Yemen has faced civil war since 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels captured the capital Sanaa and ousted the internationally recognized government. In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to fight the Houthis and restore the government.
The Houthis now control much of northern Yemen including the major port city of Hodeidah. Strategically located along trade routes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, Hodeidah’s port handles about 70% of the food and aid that enters Yemen.
Over the years, the Houthis have attacked ships in the area with drones, missiles and remote-controlled boats. These attacks escalated recently as negotiations stalled over reopening the roads to Taiz.
What Comes Next?
It remains unclear if strikes against the Houthis will compel them to stand down or lead to an even greater escalation of violence. Ultimately, experts say there is no clear military solution to the conflict in Yemen.
While the US defends its right to self-defense against Houthi aggression, attacks risk further destabilizing Yemen and the surrounding region. It also allows Iran an opportunity to portray itself as defending Yemen against foreign aggression.
Thus pressure continues to mount for a comprehensive ceasefire and negotiated settlement to begin rebuilding Yemen’s devastated economy and infrastructure. However, with rising tensions and brinkmanship tactics from both sides, the road to peace remains long and complex.
Table summarizing recent timeline of events:
|January 26, 2024
|Houthis launch drone and missile attack on convoy in Red Sea, intercepted by USS Winston Churchill
|January 30, 2024
|USS Carney shoots down 3 Iranian drones and 1 Houthi missile
|January 31, 2024
|US conducts “precision defensive strikes” against Houthi missile launch sites
|February 1, 2024
|US jets destroy 10 Houthi “one-way attack” drones readying to launch
Table summarizing key stakeholders:
|Control northern Yemen including port city of Hodeidah, attacking ships in Red Sea/Gulf of Aden
|Internationally recognized government ousted from Sanaa in 2014
|Fighting to defeat Houthis and restore Yemen government since 2015
|Backs Houthi rebels with weapons and drones
|Conducting airstrikes in Yemen against Houthis in “self-defense”
|Proposing negotiated settlement and ceasefire
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