February 7-13: Government forces advance; UN appeal published

This week we welcome to the blog our new Media & Communications intern, Laura Wert.

Tuesday, February 7
The Gulf-backed government forces of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi captured the coastal city of Al-Mokha today, Reuters reported.

Reuters also covered US President Trump's “flurry of operations” in Yemen since taking office and emphasizes that his aggressive approach may have unintended consequences. These include potentially advancing al-Qaeda and Islamic State interests, such as the portrayal of the United States as an aggressor in the ongoing civil war, encouraging recruitment into al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and further damaging Yemeni public opinion of US involvement in the region. The US administration also risks being drawn further into the complicated conflict.

The UNHCR launched a campaign to raise awareness on refugees who flee to Yemen, frequently from the Horn of Africa, and the dangers and struggles that they face.

Al Jazeera interviewed locals of Yakla, the town where the now-infamous raid was carried out by US military forces last month. Yakla residents told reporters that at least 16 civilians were killed, women and children included, while several other children were left orphaned by the violence. Although the raid was purportedly targeting leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a local journalist said that the man whose home was attacked, Abdulraouf al-Dhahab, had frequently denied any involvement with AQAP. The article also notes that al-Qaeda mourned al-Dhahab’s death, vowing to avenge it and referring to him as a “holy warrior.”

Wednesday, February 8
Reports changed throughout the day on Yemeni officials’ responses to the January raid. According to the New York Times, Yemen initially withdrew permission for ground operations by US forces against suspected terrorist groups and later, facing the possibility of losing counterterrorism assistance, changed their stance. Other sources state that permission for ground operations was not withdrawn by the Yemeni government, but that Yemen had communicated their dissatisfaction with the operation’s civilian death toll. They request a “reassessment” of counterterrorism cooperation in light of the January raid. What that reassessment will entail remains to be seen.

The United Nations appeals to the international community for $2.1 billion to avert a famine in Yemen, which constitutes the largest humanitarian response plan for the country that has ever been undertaken. According to their recently published  Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen, 18.8 million people are currently in need of protection or humanitarian aid in Yemen.

Thursday, February 9
Mohammad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University, comments on the motivations and interests behind the Trumo administration’s recent military activity in Yemen. He emphasizes that by engaging militarily with the Iranian-allied Houthis, the larger goal of the US administration is to show its support for Saudi Arabia in an ongoing cold war with Iran. Bazzi emphasizes that Trump’s rhetoric and support for Saudi positions is dangerous in that it risks inflaming the conflict between these powers rather than helping to resolve it. Furthermore, the current ramping-up of the conflict in Yemen is encouraging rather than curbing extremism in the wartorn country.

The United States federal appeals court upheld the suspension of Trump’s travel ban, which sought to halt immigration and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen.

Friday, February 10
According to Reuters, a top Houthi official requested in a letter to the United Nations that UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed not have his term renewed, citing bias against the Houthi movement. The official also asked that the UN investigate the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of a funeral in Sanaa in 2016.

Meanwhile, airstrikes by the Saudi coalition on the port of Hodeida escalated. The ICRC issued an urgent plea that civilians be spared in the increasing violence in Al Mokha, Hodeida, Taiz and Dhubab. The UNHCR also reported intensifying hostilities in these areas, stating that 34,000 people have been displaced and asking for greater international support, having received less than one percent of the resources necessary to address the humanitarian challenges they are faced with in Yemen. Making matters even more urgent, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the supplies of wheat in Yemen will be exhausted by March of 2017. This will drastically worsen the already-dire food security problems faced by Yemenis today, 7.3 million of whom are already classified by the UN as “severely food-insecure.”

NPR questions White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s statements surrounding the January raid in Yakla, stating that neither Spicer’s announcement that the raid was planned in November of 2016, nor that the goal of the raid was information-gathering, were true. Instead, they state that only the location of the raid was identified in November (among others) as a potential focal point. Furthermore, according to one US official, the use of SEAL Team Six in the operation belies the claim that its primary goal was gaining information.

Saturday, February 11
Saturday marked the 6th anniversary of the 2011 uprising against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. As Al Jazeera notes, six years after the beginning of a revolution that sought change for the country, violence and sectarian conflict remain a harsh reality for the Yemeni people today.

Sunday, February 12
The United Nations envoy to Yemen receives full continued support from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, despite the request by Houthi officials that his term not be renewed.

At least 3 people were killed at Aden airport on Sunday, according to the Washington Post. Yemeni officials stated that in an incident of inter-militia conflict, a government-allied helicopter opened fire on nearby local fighters affiliated with the Hadi government. As of Sunday, the airport is surrounded by UAE-backed troops from the presidential guard. According to Reuters, the incident erupted when the airport’s chief of security, to whom the abovementioned local fighters were loyal, refused to step down when the government ordered his replacement.

Monday, February 13
Middle East Eye reports that 20 Houthi and government-backed troops were killed during the night in clashes on the Yemeni coast. The renewed violence claimed the lives of 14 Houthi fighters and six government-backed troops.

Meanwhile, medical supply shortages are forcing cancer patients to seek medicine on the black market as the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Hodeida port prevents the flow of essential medical supplies, further threatening the nation’s fragile health sector which already suffers from under- or unpaid staff.