On the fourth anniversary of the US-Saudi war on Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest nation suffers from the worst humanitarian catastrophe on Earth. But the Houthi movement — and Yemeni people — remain unbroken.
By Ben Norton
March 26, 2019 marks the fourth anniversary of the US-Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. These four years have unleashed Hell on Earth for millions of civilians. It would be impossible to overstate the devastation, destruction, and death they have experienced.
For 1,460 days, Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries on the planet, has relentlessly bombed the poorest nation in the Middle East, with crucial help from the United States and United Kingdom.
Yet the US government, through the administrations of both Donald Trump and Barack Obama, has said strikingly little about the catastrophe in Yemen, which it is directly responsible for creating and continuing to exacerbate. (Contrast Washington’s muted response to the calamity it created in Yemen with the exaggerated claims of a “humanitarian crisis” it has deployed to justify a right-wing coup attempt in Venezuela.)
The UN World Food Program (WFP) warned on the fourth anniversary of the war on Yemen, “Today 20 million Yemenis – some 70 percent of the population – are food insecure, marking a 13 percent increase from last year.”
Nearly 10 million Yemeni civilians “are one step away from famine,” WFP said.
This hunger is not natural. It has been created, artificially, intentionally, by an international coalition hellbent on putting Yemen back on the leash, unseating the Houthi movement that presently governs most of the country, and crushing any attempt at independence.
Since March 2015, the Royal Saudi Air Force has, with US assistance, launched nearly 20,000 air raids in Yemen — an average of more than 13 per day, for four years straight. This bombing has targeted civilian homes, schools, hospitals, funerals, food facilities, and even buses full of children.
While corporate media outlets have invariably described the war as “Saudi-led,” systematically whitewashing the role of the United States in overseeing war crimes in Yemen, it has been quietly admitted that Riyadh could not wage the war without Washington. President Trump himself even boasted that the Saudi monarchy would collapse in “two weeks” were it not for American patronage.
Most of the bombs, missiles, planes, and other military equipment used in Yemen have been made in America and Britain. The US and UK have sold tens of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates as they wage war on Yemen, profiting handsomely from the slaughter and ruin.
American and British military officials have been physically present in the Saudi command and control center and enjoyed access to the lists of targets, directly assisting Riyadh with the bombing. The US Air Force has also provided in-air refueling for Saudi bombers. (Washington eventually halted this policy for public relations reasons, in a decision that the Associated Press noted had “little impact”).
Many thousands of Yemeni civilians have died in the violence — the exact number is impossible to calculate. And well over 100,000 Yemeni children have died from preventable causes due to the war. In 2016 alone, 63,000 Yemeni children died of hunger, malnutrition, and disease.
US-Saudi coalition intentionally bombing civilians
Corporate media outlets have paid very little attention to the war, despite the key role of Western governments in waging it. Instead MSNBC and other corporate media spent their resources and time obsessively spreading the Russiagate conspiracy theory.
This left independent journalists and scholars to do the hard work documenting the devastation. The Yemen Data Project has shown how Saudi Arabia has systematically, intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure in its bombing campaign.
According to data meticulously compiled by the Yemen Data Project, Saudi Arabia has launched 19,511 air raids in Yemen, as of March 2019.
Only one-third of Saudi airstrikes have hit military targets. Another third have hit civilians. The targets of the final third are unknown.
US-Saudi bombing has ravaged the impoverished country’s infrastructure, specifically targeting Yemen’s food system.
The Western-backed coalition has used hunger as a weapon, punishing millions of Yemeni civilians for their government, plunging them into what a famine monitor created by the US government admitted in 2016 was the “largest food security emergency in the world.”
The Yemen Data Project has documented — in a very careful, conservative estimate — Saudi attacks on at least 1,968 residential areas, 640 farms, 237 schools, 185 communication buildings, 129 water and electricity plants, 70 healthcare facilities, 64 food storage units, 38 universities, 21 radio and TV stations, seven refugee camps, and even seven UN buildings.
Real-life dystopia in Yemen
The human cost of the damage this US-Saudi war has exacted is difficult to quantify.
A report published by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on March 21 offers just a glimpse into the havoc. Although clinical, it paints a vivid portrait of the gruesome toll.
More than 4,800 civilians were killed or injured in 2018, an average of 93 civilian casualties per week — 30 percent killed or injured in their own homes. Airstrikes were responsible for just over half of the civilian casualties.
Many thousands of families have been displaced by the bombing. “Most live in open spaces and public buildings,” OCHA reported.
“These horrific incidents show that innocent civilians including children continue to pay the price for a conflict in which they have no say,” local aid workers said.
“Yemen’s economic and social fabric is disintegrating,” the report added. Yemen’s entire GDP has shrunk by a staggering 39 percent since 2014.
Even more shocking are the poverty rates. Since fighting began in 2014, poverty in Yemen has increased by 33 percent. OCHA estimates that 52 percent of the entire country is living in poverty in 2019.
Before the US-Saudi military intervention began in March 2015, the average Yemeni lived on US $4.5 per day. A year into the war, in 2016, the livelihood of the average Yemeni was cut by more than half, to just US $1.8 per day. This was compounded by an unemployment rate of over 60 percent.
Even those with jobs are not doing much better. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, medical workers, and government officials have gone years without receiving a paycheck.
A cataclysmic cholera outbreak has also returned to Yemen. The World Health Organization (WHO) documented 108,889 suspected cases of cholera, and 190 deaths, between January 1 and March 17. Approximately one-third of the victims are Yemeni children under age 5.
The US-Saudi coalition has indirectly resorted to biological warfare in Yemen. In 2017, Yemen suffered from one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history, with more than 1 million cases documented by WHO between April and December.
Cholera is an entirely preventable disease. But US-Saudi bombing utterly destroyed Yemen’s health infrastructure, leaving the civilian population defenseless against diseases that have been eradicated in almost every other country.
Failed attempt to crush Yemeni uprising
Beyond the stomach churning statistics, there is a key question: Why have the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE spent the past four years waging such a cruel war on the poorest country in the Middle East?
This question is almost never asked, yet alone answered, in corporate media. When they have rarely reported on Yemen, corporate media have endlessly repeated the myth that war is an “Iran-Saudi proxy war” or a “Sunni-Shia conflict.” This is a false narrative designed to obscure the real motives behind the assault.
To understand the war on Yemen, historical and political context is crucial.
This war was conceived to prevent Yemen from ever enjoying the capacity to rebel, wage a revolution, or govern itself as an independent state. Yemeni nationalists have tried for decades to forge a path independent of the US and Saudi Arabia, and have been ruthlessly punished for it.
Since the overthrow of the Soviet Union and the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, the country has increasingly come under the control of Washington and its allies.
With the collapse of South Yemen’s Soviet-aligned socialist government and the move toward pro-American neoliberalism by North Yemen’s nationalist government, Saudi influence began to spread throughout the country.
With increased Saudi investment in the country came Wahhabi doctrine. As Yemen fell under Saudi domination, right-wing sectarian Islamism spread in the south of the country.
In the north, a grassroots movement emerged in the community of mostly Zaidi Muslims, who are often described as Shia but share more in common with mainstream Sunni Islam. The Houthi movement was formed, to resist Saudi influence and Wahhabism.
As the Houthi movement began fighting against Yemen’s US-backed, Saudi-allied central government, it became increasingly political. The Houthis, who refer to themselves as Ansar Allah, preached against oppression and corruption. Eventually they developed a pronounced anti-imperialist ideology, vociferously condemning the US war on Iraq and Israeli war on Lebanon, even adopting the slogan “Death to America, Death to Israel.”
As Ansar Allah grew stronger and began to take over more territory, it formed a coalition with Yemeni nationalists loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Both of these forces opposed the regime of President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a corrupt autocrat with no democratic legitimacy, whom they referred to as a Saudi puppet (a designation Hadi later confirmed when he fled to Riyadh, where he has remained for nearly all of the war).
By late 2014, Ansar Allah and the nationalists captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, seizing control of the state and carrying out what they described as the September 21 Revolution.
This is what so terrified the Saudi monarchy and its protectors in Western capitals: A revolt against a faithful US-Saudi puppet, led by an anti-imperialist political force that chants “Death to America, Death to Israel” — along with the prospects of an independent state in a strategically important area in the Arabian peninsula, near important trade routes on the Red Sea through which flow 4.8 million barrels of oil per day.
Riyadh launched its bombing campaign on March 26, 2015 with the express intention of reversing the September 21 Revolution, ousting Ansar Allah, and reasserting control over Yemen.
Because the Houthi movement has politically expressed support for Iran, Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Palestinian resistance groups, along with other anti-imperialist states like Venezuela and Cuba, Western governments and corporate media have portrayed it as a cat’s paw for foreign interests, a “proxy of Iran.” But this misleading myth is used to obscure how Ansar Allah and its allies are organic political forces that developed in the grassroots of Yemeni society to resist foreign domination.
In a way, the fact that the Houthi movement still governs northern Yemen, including the most populated areas of the country, is a sign that the US-Saudi war has failed.
When they announced their military intervention, Saudi officials said confidently that it would be over within a few weeks, that Ansar Allah would quickly surrender.
After four years, there is still no end in sight to the war. Several past attempts at peace talks have failed, largely because the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and UAE will not tolerate an independent government allied with Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
In December 2018 there was a slight breakthrough, with the signing of the Stockholm agreement. But these provisions only delivered a partial ceasefire, and deadlines for the accord have already been missed — while US-Saudi airstrikes have continued, relentlessly.
The war has slowed in 2019, but it is far from over. And the suffering of the Yemeni people has shown no sign of abating.
Despite the enormous international onslaught, hundreds of thousands of deaths, widespread famine-like conditions, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on war — despite all of this, the US-UK-Saudi-UAE coalition has been unable to crush the will of the Yemeni people, who continue to fight for independence and sovereignty.