In mid-April, the United Nations Security Council listened to the address of Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen, and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. The two had been called upon to speak to the council about the developing humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen.
In a deepening exchange of civil hostilities between an international coalition of forces supporting President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on the one side, and Houthi militias and allied units of the armed forces on the other, both sides appear to want peace, but so far, negotiations have been difficult and an agreement has been elusive.
US involvement has added an unfortunate and complicated dimension to the conflict.
Major US troop deployments and military decisions, such as the decision to enter a violent altercation, have traditionally been subject to congressional authorization, since public debate increases transparency and requires presidents and generals to justify their decisions and be held accountable for the outcomes. But since 9/11, the congressional review process has changed dramatically, and the current administration has taken unfortunate advantage of the new shroud of secrecy that hangs over the decision to send troops into war.
Under the new authorizations procedures, the US initially sent troops to Yemen to fight Al Qaeda extremists, but since that time, a separate conflict has broken out on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, a conflict between indigenous Houthi rebels who pose no threat to the US, and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
US troops have been deployed to fight the rebels, who are backed by Iran. Originally, the US administration claimed that US troops were only engaged in refueling and logistics in the area, not combat, but this has turned out to be untrue. At a hearing in March, Senators were provided with a false statement by General Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, who claimed that the US was not party to the conflict. In fact, US troops were already deeply engaged—without congressional approval-- in an action that has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises on record.
According to the UN special envoy, the numbers of people who are currently facing famine and those who have lost their homes both number in the millions. A cholera outbreak is descending on the area, and with the airport closed to commercial traffic, critically ill patients may not be able to receive treatments that are not available in Yemen.
Meanwhile, even though the conflict has reached a form of stalemate, Saudi Arabian military leaders are determined to press forward toward a brutal military victory, and the current US administration is supplying Saudi Arabia with both troops and the sale of a steady flow of military hardware.
Violent actions in the area may end soon, but the humanitarian disaster left in the wake of this civil war will worsen before it improves. The role the UN will play in mitigating this damage remains to be seen. In the light of exposure, the US administration may also be pressured to change course, but so far, no change seems imminent. Join us as we follow these unfolding events.