United Nations mediator Martin Griffiths warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday the civil war in Yemen is “back in full force,” with new military fronts opening, just a month after the Biden administration lifted the terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi insurgency.
The Yemen civil war has its roots in the 2011 “Arab Spring” unrest across the Middle East, but it went hot in 2014 as the Houthis captured the capital of Sanaa and ejected the internationally-recognized government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Hadi was the leader who took over after the Arab Spring disruptions; the despot dislodged by the alleged flourishing of Middle Eastern democracy, Ali Abdullah Saleh, threw in with the Houthis and helped them overthrow his replacement. Saleh died of acute complications from no longer being useful to the Houthis in December 2017.
Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition to restore the civilian government of Yemen and began intervening in the civil war in 2015. The Saudi coalition has been criticized for causing excessive civilian casualties with its airstrikes.
The Trump administration formally designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization near the end of President Donald Trump’s term, but the Biden administration lifted the designation in February, ostensibly because classifying the Houthis as terrorists made it difficult to get humanitarian aid to Yemenis living in Houthi-controlled territory. Biden also announced the United States would no longer support the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
The Houthis rewarded Biden by going on a massive terrorism spree, launching a constant stream of missile and drone attacks at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and within Yemen. The Biden administration said it was “alarmed” by these developments last week.
On Tuesday, Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council the Houthis are sustaining a major offensive against Marib, along with “military escalations in Hajjah and Taiz and Hudaydah.”
“Fighting forces on both sides have suffered heavy losses in this unnecessary battle. I see shocking reports, as I am sure we all do, of children increasingly getting drawn into the war effort and deprived of their future,” Griffiths said.
Marib is a major concern because a significant number of Yemenis displaced from their homes in other parts of the country are camped there. It is also a valuable oil and gas hub, which the Houthis desperately wish to control for its revenue and the leverage it would bring during negotiations for control of Yemen.
The Houthis appear to be using Biden’s overtures as an opportunity to seize Marib by any means necessary, launching a furious offensive with steadily mounting casualties. A source close to the United Nations told AFP on Monday that the Houthis are “holding back negotiations” because they want to “see how far they can go” in Marib.
Hudaydah is a strategic port city that has long been under siege by the Houthis. Fighting intensified around the port in December with the shelling of an industrial compound, a strike denounced by the United Nations and described by the Yemeni government as an “ugly terrorist attack.”
Taiz is the region where the Houthis murdered several children on Monday by firing a missile into a school. Yemeni government forces had hoped to distract the Houthis from their offensives against Marib and Hudaydah by pushing them out of Taiz.
Griffiths also reported the deaths of 44 African migrants at Houthi hands in the occupied capital of Sanaa last week. The migrants were reportedly protesting poor conditions and abuses at a detention facility when the Houthis fired tear gas into the crowd and started a fire. Griffiths recommended an “independent investigation into the cause of the fire.”
“The Houthi militia committed a gross and heinous violation of the right of migrants in Sanaa,” the Arab Coalition said Tuesday after working with the Yemeni government to airlift 160 African migrants out of Yemen.
“The death and violence must stop. We call on the Houthis to accept an immediate, comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire and to cease all attacks. In the meantime, we will continue to hold Houthi leadership to account,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council on the same day Griffths spoke.