Mar 20, 2017
Upon taking office, President Trump has intensified U.S. military attacks on Yemen. He gave the okay for the very early morning raid of January 29 by U.S. special forces, supported by helicopter gunships and armed Reaper drones, on the rural village of Yakla. And in early March, Trump demonstrably stepped up U.S. bombing of Yemen, with 40 bombing raids in less than a week.
According to the Trump administration, both the raid and the bombings targeted fighters belonging to the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda. But in reality, it was the civilian population that suffered the brunt of the casualties. In Yakla alone, at least 25 civilians, including 10 children under the age of 13, were killed, with dozens more people wounded.
Just like in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the population in Yemen has been caught in the crossfire between imperialist bombs and Islamic militias – with the difference being that the news media has paid much less attention to events in Yemen.
Yemen, the small and very impoverished country at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is located at a crossroads for the entire region. Every day, three million barrels of oil pass through the Gulf of Aden off the Yemen coast, with ships traveling either north to the oil refineries of Saudi Arabia or to the south and the shipping lanes of the Asian markets. At one place, these shipping lanes are so narrow, they are considered a “choke point” just like the Strait of Hormuz at the base of the Persian Gulf.
But the people of this country have paid greatly for the fact that they live in such a strategic location. For that location has made Yemen a target of various imperial and regional powers vying for control and influence, from the U.S. and Great Britain, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. These rivalries have contributed to more than a half a century of civil wars and violent upsurges inside Yemen.
The latest chapter of this endless war began in March 2015, when the Saudi Arabian military, at the head of a nine-nation Arab coalition, and with the full support of the United States government, began to bomb Yemen heavily in order to weaken and drive back an offensive by the Houthi militia.
The Houthis, named after its founder, had taken control over much of the country, and forced the government, headed by the dictator, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee.
Saudi Arabia shares a long border with Yemen. And the Saudi rulers feared that if the Houthis triumphed in Yemen, it could cause greater instability inside Saudi Arabia itself, especially since the Houthis and Saudi Arabia’s most oppressed minorities share the same Shiite religious sect. The Saudi sheiks also feared that the Iranian government, their main rival in the region, would gain a new ally.
This war only sowed more chaos inside Yemen, fueling the growth and power of the Yemen branch of al Qaeda, better known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as the local branch of ISIS. A Frontline report, “Yemen under Siege” (May 3, 2016) even shows members of al Qaeda fighting alongside the Saudi coalition forces against their common enemy, the Houthis.
Eventually, the U.S. and Saudi coalition forces turned around and also attacked and bombed al-Qaeda and ISIS – a war inside a war.
These wars have been devastating. In only two years, more than ten thousand people have been killed and 40,000 more have been wounded. The war has also obliterated the already extremely weak Yemen economy. “The [Saudi-U.S.] coalition has destroyed a wide variety of civilian targets that critics say have no clear link to the rebels,” reported the New York Times (“U.S. Fingerprints on Attacks Obliterating Yemen’s Economy,” November 13, 2016), in an understatement if there ever was one.
The article went on to describe the destruction: “It has hit hospitals and schools. It has destroyed bridges, power stations, poultry farms, a key seaport and factories that produce yogurt, tea, tissues, ceramic, Coca-Cola and potato chips. It has bombed weddings and a funeral.”
This massive destruction has already driven close to three million people out of their homes, while depriving much of the population of any food. The latest U.N. estimates are that close to 17 million out of a population of 26 million people have so little access to food, they face starvation and famine.
This is the barbaric price that the U.S. and the other imperial powers, big and small, impose on the population of Yemen.