The Biden administration announced Friday it will revoke the terrorist designation from Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents.
On Sunday, the Biden State Department urged the Houthis to stop launching terrorist attacks after the Saudi-led military coalition intercepted a Houthi drone strike against civilian targets. The Saudi military coalition reported intercepting and destroying an armed drone launched by the Houthis from northern Yemen against civilian targets in southern Saudi Arabia.
“It was launched systematically and deliberately by the terrorist Houthi militia to target civilians and civilian objects in the south of the region,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliiki charged.
On Sunday evening, the State Department said it was “deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks.”
“We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions and demonstrate their commitment to constructively engage in UN Special Envoy Griffiths’ efforts to achieve peace. The time is now to find an end to this conflict,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The Houthis, a militant Shiite Islamist insurgent movement, overthrew the internationally recognized government of Yemen in 2014. With support from the United States and Europe, Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of nine Arab states to intervene against the Houthis in 2015. The elected president of Yemen, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took refuge in Saudi Arabia.
A brutal civil war ensued, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises on Earth. All parties to the conflict have been accused of violating international law by targeting civilians, in addition to the disease, starvation, and dislocation the seemingly endless war caused. The U.S. and other Western supporters have been criticized for backing the Saudi intervention even after airstrikes that inflicted heavy civilian casualties.
A secondary conflict erupted in 2019 when another insurgent group, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), broke away from the Yemeni government and announced it had taken control of several key cities, inconveniently including the one employed by the deposed government as its temporary capital, the port of Aden. The STC largely settled its differences with the elected government during the summer.
“The war in Yemen must end,” President Joe Biden said on Thursday in his first major speech on foreign policy.
Biden called the conflict a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe” and announced he was ending “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
Biden parenthetically mentioned that Saudi Arabia “faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries” and pledged to “help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, and its people,” but he did not name the Houthis specifically as one of those threats.
On Friday, the Biden State Department announced it would reverse the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization. Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the designation on his last day in office.
“Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the State Department said Friday, stressing that its action should not be interpreted as condoning the “reprehensible conduct” of the Houthis.