The ambiguous decline of jihadist militancy in Yemen

A July 2018 policy paper by Dr. Elisabeth Kendall for the Middle East Institute explores the gradual development of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), and the conditions each organization require to succeed. Kendall analyzes the structures of AQAP and challenges the organization has faced. She also compares AQAP to ISY and considers their recent decentralizations. She urges key conflict actors to take actions to ultimately end the war and act now to restrict jihadist militancy in Yemen.

June 13-18: Hudaydah offensive displaces thousands, Griffiths seeks a last-minute deal


Civilians are fleeing Hudaydah as the Saudi-led bombardment intensifies near the airport, which lies south of the city.

President Hadi and other government officials arrived in Aden after being in exile for over a year. The trip follows Hadi’s recent visit to the UAE.

More than six months after his assassination, a video of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh recorded hours before his death has been released. In the video, Saleh gives his last speech, criticizing the Houthis and blaming Yemen’s crisis on them.  Saleh calls on all Yemenis to revolt and join the fight against the Houthis. The speech was broadcast to coincide with the start of the Hudaydah ground offensive, part of which is being led by Saleh’s nephew, Tariq.


Civilians continue to evacuate the districts surrounding Hudaydah’s airport as coalition forces move through the area.

The UN special envoy for Yemen arrived in San’a for crisis talks on Hudaydah.  Houthi officials deny the government’s claim that coalition forces have captured the airport.


The Houthis have responded to Saudi airstrikes by launching drone attacks in western Yemen.

UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash called for an unconditional withdrawal by the Houthis from Hudaydah, potentially undercutting the UN special envoy’s latest efforts in the capital.

On Anniversaries

Originally, we at the Yemen Peace Project had decided to refrain from commenting on the third “anniversary” of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen. Mostly this is because we recognize March 26, 2015 as the severe escalation, but not the beginning, of Yemen’s civil war. That dishonor goes to the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh, who took a faltering transitional government hostage by occupying San’a on September 21, 2014.

December 4-10: Houthis crack down in San'a, coalition advances toward Hudaydah


The US Supreme Court ruled that President Trump’s travel ban could be fully enforced while challenges to the ban proceed in lower courts. “The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, will be holding arguments on the legality of the ban this week.”


US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is likely to worsen following Saleh’s assassination. Mattis’ statements were vague, but signalled an increased concern among American officials for the humanitarian crisis.

November 27-December 4; Former President Saleh is Killed Amidst Violence Between Houthi and Saleh Forces


The UN, after completing a delivery of 1.9 million diphtheria vaccines shortly after the Saudi-led coalition reopened Yemen’s airspace to humanitarian flights, stated that the successful delivery through the San’a airport “cannot be a one-off,” because nearly every Yemeni child is in need of further humanitarian assistance.

Statement on the Death of Ali Abdullah Saleh

Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of the Yemen Arab Republic and then the Republic of Yemen from 1978 to 2011, was apparently killed by Houthi forces today in San’a. His death has been confirmed by members of his General People’s Congress (GPC). It follows five days of heavy fighting in San’a between forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthi militias, clashes that have killed over 100 civilians. The Yemen Peace Project calls on all sides to cease hostilities and encourages internal and international parties to renew their commitment to a negotiated end to the civil war instead of responding to the weekend’s events with further military escalation.

Governor of Ta'iz: Lack of Funds Exacerbates Deteriorating Economic and Security Situation

The governor of Ta’iz, Ali al-Mamari, recently described the economic and military conditions of Ta’iz in an interview with Farea al-Muslimi of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. The Houthis stormed Ta’iz in 2015, and fighting between Houthi-Saleh forces and local resistance groups supported by the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition has continued since. The Houthis control Ta’iz’s industrial areas of major economic activity, and in order to keep control of these revenue-generating areas, the Houthis blockade and shell Ta’iz. Al-Mamari details how the central government, particularly the Central Bank of Yemen, neglects Ta’iz - and how the lack of funds contributes to the deteriorating security, education, and public health situation.

International Crisis Group: Saudi Arabia Must Promote Political Settlement During Houthi-Saleh Tensions

International Crisis Group published a report on October 11, 2017 explaining that the ongoing tensions within the Houthi-Saleh alliance provide the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to resolve the war in Yemen with an inclusive regional initiative. The report suggests that Saudi Arabia should capitalize on this moment of heightened strain in the Houthi-Saleh relationship and promote peace, ending a war that is economically and diplomatically costly for Saudi Arabia itself and disastrous for the Yemenis.

August 28-September 5: Floods Increase Rate of Cholera; NGOs Urge Independent International Inquiry in Yemen


Saudi Arabia campaigned at the United Nations in an attempt to emphasize its humanitarian role in Yemen, stating that the country has donated over $8 billion to assist Yemen. Saudi Arabia is concerned about the UN child rights blacklist and a possible UN human rights inquiry into crimes in Yemen.

Houthis and Saleh clash in San'a

Violent confrontations between the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces started on Saturday after the two sides exchanged accusations of treachery in televised speeches last week. Abd al-Malik al-Houthi said that former president Saleh had to bear the consequences of calling Ansar Allah a “militia,” and that the Houthis considered the GPC party’s call for a mass demonstration in the capital an internal threat. Meanwhile, pro-Saleh media accused the Houthis of blocking the arrival of supporters to the rally by establishing security barriers and checkpoints in Raymah and Hudaydah provinces.

Sana'a Center: US Military Policy Destabilizes Yemen

According to a report by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, US military assistance and counterterrorism policies in Yemen have destabilized the country and produced effects counter to US interests. US military aid to the Yemeni government, under both President Saleh and President Hadi, has allowed the presidents to undemocratically consolidate power through appointing family members and allies to military positions. It has also contributed to the current war in Yemen; the Houthi-Saleh alliance use weapons that the US gave to Yemen previously, and counterterrorism military aid to the government is often used to maintain the government’s fight against the Houthis. Meanwhile, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP are undermined by the continuing chaos of the war and by the government’s prioritization of the fight against the Houthis which, at times, leads to cooperation between the government and AQAP.

Analysis: the causes of the Saudi-Qatari rift

The recent diplomatic crisis between several Arab states, headed by Saudi Arabia, and Qatar has caused ripples across the region and the world. Yemen, the site of military interventions by both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has been particularly affected as Qatari troops withdraw from the country and certain Salafi elements protest Saudi tactics. Gabriele vom Bruck, senior lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, penned an analysis in Le Monde Diplomatique about the Saudi-Qatari rift, entitled “Qatar crisis: Saudi Arabia as anti-hero?” highlighting the significance of the spat for Yemen.

Sana'a Center on Iran's Role in Yemen

The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies has published an article attempting to accurately depict Iran’s involvement in the Yemeni conflict. The author, Farea al-Muslimi, points out that, while Iran is in fact supporting the Houthis in some capacity, the Saudi response has been disproportionate compared to the scale of Iranian commitment. He argues that Iran’s support for the Houthis is an attempt to force the Saudis into yet another conflict, thereby weakening the Saudi government’s military and financial capacity as a whole.

June 20-26: Ceasefire violations kill dozens, UN urges immediate resolution

Tuesday, June 21Following two months of negotiations in Kuwait, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged the country’s warring parties to finalize a peace deal as soon as possible. The envoy emphasized that now is the time for both the Houthis and Hadi’s government to make concessions. He added that the recently introduced roadmap to resolve the conflict, which outlines the formation and responsibilities of a national unity government, has been received positively by both sides.

The Saudi-led coalition said that it intercepted a ballistic missile fired in Marib, while locals say a Saudi airstrike in Lahj caused eight civilian casualties. The exchange is one of many instances of violations of the ceasefire by all sides of the conflict.

Decades after the disappearance of thousands of Yemeni Jewish children in Israel between 1948 and 1954, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling to “reveal the truth about the Yemenite children,” saying that “the time has come to know what happened and to do justice here.”

Between 1,500 and 5,000 Sephardic children, mainly Yemenite toddlers, were reported missing during the period following Israel’s founding. Many parents were told that their children had died, sparking claims they were kidnapped and given to Ashkenazi couples.

Wednesday, June 22 A senior UN official said that already limited food distribution in Yemen will be forced to scale back by August because of severe funding shortages.

“About 14 million people, or roughly half the country's population, suffer from food insecurity at ‘crisis’ or ‘emergency’ levels,” said George Khoury, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen. Emergency level is just one step before famine on the UN's food insecurity scale. About $200 million is reportedly needed to keep food distribution at current levels in the coming months.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss improving civilian protection in Yemen, and other regional issues. The meeting, requested by the Saudis, comes following the release of a UN report that originally listed the Saudi-led coalition as the group responsible for the most child deaths in Yemen in the past year. The coalition was removed from the list after Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw funding from UN programs. Ban claims to stand by the original report.

Yemeni Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Mohammed al-Maitami said that an evaluation of war damages in six Yemeni governorates has been completed, with initial estimates reaching $12 billion.

The survey focused on six major sectors including health, education, electricity, and water. Maitami added that the study was carried out by the Yemeni government in cooperation with experts from the European Union and the United Nations Development Program.

Thursday, June 23 Residents of Ja’ar and Zinjibar reported that al-Qaeda fighters have returned to the southern cities a month after their negotiated withdrawal. Militants are now said to be seen during the day driving pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and retreating to hideouts at night.

The Yemeni government said that Houthi forces must withdraw from all territories seized since 2014 and hand back control of state institutions ahead of any political settlement.

Meanwhile, the Houthi delegation said it would not agree to any deal on military and security issues until there was an agreement on a consensus president and a national unity government to oversee the transition. This disagreement on the sequence of a political settlement has long been one of the major sticking points in the negotiations.

Friday, June 24 Clashes across Yemen, including in Jawf province and Ta’iz, killed 22 Houthis and 11 pro-government forces, according to military officials. Eight of the pro-government casualties were killed by friendly fire from a Saudi-led airstrike that missed its target.

Saturday, June 25 Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh spoke to constituents and reporters about the ongoing war, the peace talks in Kuwait, and the role of foreign powers in Yemen’s conflict. Following reports that Riyadh has been proposed as the location for the signing of a peace deal between Yemen’s government-in-exile and the Houthis, Saleh claimed that the GPC will never travel to Saudi Arabia, even if it means that the war will continue for decades. This is despite the fact that many GPC members have resided in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war.

Sunday, June 26 Saudi-led airstrikes killed at least seven people in Yemen on Sunday, according to residents. Two women died in an airstrike on a home located between the provinces of Ta’iz and Lahj, and five were killed in Khawlan, southeast of San’a. It is unclear if the casualties from the Khawlan strike were civilians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "serious violations" have been committed in Yemen’s current ceasefire, and called on warring parties to reach a peace deal before the conflict claims more casualties.

"Whilst the cessation of hostilities is mostly holding, there have been serious violations, causing further casualties and suffering among the civilian population, including children." 

Ban added that time is not on Yemen’s side, saying that, "There is an alarming scarcity of basic food items. The economy is in precarious condition.”

May 16-22: Saudi airstrikes resume, peace talks given 'one last chance'

Monday, May 16weekday ban on the sale of qat went into effect in Aden on Monday, with checkpoints set up around the city to block its shipment. The crackdown was reportedly due to social and health concerns. Qat was last banned 26 years ago in south Yemen, before unification in 1990.

An anonymous diplomatic source in Kuwait spoke to Reuters about progress in the negotiations, saying, "There is an agreement on the withdrawal from the cities and the (Houthi) handover of weapons, forming a government of all parties and preparing for new elections. The dispute now only centers around where to begin."

The wave of terrorist attacks in Yemen briefly appeared to have brought the two sides closer together, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir tweeting last week, "Whether we agree or disagree with them, the Houthis are part of the social fabric of Yemen ... The Houthis are our neighbors. Al Qaeda and Daesh are terrorist entities that must be confronted in Yemen and everywhere else.”

Tuesday, May 17 Hadi’s government withdrew from peace talks on Tuesday in response to what it says is the refusal by the Houthis to implement UN resolution 2216, which would require them to withdraw from seized territory and hand over their arms. The resolution has been one of the major sticking points in the negotiations.

Only 16% of the $1.8 billion needed to provide humanitarian aid in Yemen has been funded, the UN reported on Tuesday. UN aid operations director John Ging said that over the past few months there has been “a shocking fall off in terms of donor funding for basic humanitarian support,” adding, “We're only asking for the minimum that is required to keep people alive in these awful circumstances."

Wednesday, May 18 Amnesty International says that Houthi forces have been arbitrarily arresting opposition activists, journalists, academics, and politicians. Those detained are often tortured and held without charge for as long as 18 months.

"Eighteen individuals featured in the report are still being held, including 21-year-old student Abdul Ilah Saylan, who was arrested outside a Sanaa cafe last August."

Thursday, May 19 The US added ISIS affiliates from Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen to its list of designated terrorist organizations on Thursday. These groups were previously considered sympathizers rather than formal affiliates of terrorist groups.

“The State Department, working with the Justice and Treasury departments, also placed the groups on a list of global terrorists that allows the Obama administration to sanction anyone who knowingly helps or provides material support to these groups -- freezing any property, bank accounts or other interests they might have in the US.”

Saturday, May 21 Yemen's government agreed to resume peace talks after Qatar's foreign minister and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon succeeded in convincing Hadi to return to the negotiating table following Tuesday’s suspension.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi said on Saturday that the Yemeni government will give the peace talks one last chance after receiving regional and international guarantees.

The move comes at the same time that the Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes on supposed military bases in San’a and Amran provinces, reportedly killing dozens of Houthi fighters.

Sunday May 22 UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that Kuwait talks are making progress as the truce largely holds. This is despite the previous days’ airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

Meanwhile, Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to reject Hadi’s legitimacy and called the talks a “waste of time.”

Yemeni troops backed by the Arab coalition reportedly killed 13 al-Qaeda fighters in a raid outside of Mukalla on Sunday.

"A search confirmed that these fighters were about to carry out a surprise terrorist attack on some military command centres at dawn this morning."

Three more fighters were later killed as a car bomb they were preparing detonated in the courtyard of a house in the Rawkab area where the raid had taken place, according to residents and a security official.

Police in Aden opened fire on protesters on Sunday who were demonstrating against the city’s recent power cuts. At least one protester was killed and others wounded.

"Our life is a real disaster," said 20-year-old Aden resident Mohammed Abdulhakim. "We are unable to sleep" because of the heat, which has reached over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The war has destroyed everything and the aid arriving in Aden is not enough to restore power.”

April 18-24: Little progress made during talks following 3-day postponement

Monday, April 18The peace talks that were set to begin in Kuwait on Monday were delayed after the Houthi delegation failed to arrive. A senior Houthi official told Reuters that "there's no point in going...if there's no respect for the ceasefire." Both sides have been accused of breaking the ceasefire that began on April 11.

Official Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdelsalam explained that the absence of Houthi representatives at the Kuwait talks was due to coalition airstrikes, in violation of the ceasefire, and the lack of any UN condemnation of these strikes. Abdelsalam accused the UN of being unable to put forth a clear agenda that would make a final solution to the conflict possible, adding that the Houthis “will not go [to the talks] to recognize that the other party is the legitimate ruler of Yemen.”

Tuesday, April 19 Talks were postponed for a second day as the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged participation in good faith from all parties.

Wednesday, April 20 Houthi representative Mahdi al-Mashat announced on Facebook that a delegation would be traveling to Kuwait on Wednesday to participate in the peace talks, adding that the Houthis “reserve the right to suspend participation if the promises are not kept."

Thursday, April 21 After a three-day delay, talks between the Houthis and the Hadi government began in Kuwait. The negotiations are based on UN Security Council resolution 2216 which calls for Houthi fighters to withdraw from seized territory and hand over their weapons to the government, conditions that the Houthi delegation is unlikely to agree to.

In line with an order from the UN, all of former president Saleh’s assets in Turkey have been frozen, according to the Official Gazette. Although the value of his assets in Turkey was not revealed, UN investigators estimate that during his rule, Saleh amassed up to $60 billion (equivalent to Yemen's annual GDP) and transferred much of his wealth to foreign accounts under fake names.

Friday, April 22 Peace talks resumed for their second day, with Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond saying that “only a political solution can bring an end to the conflict,” while urging the return of “Yemen’s legitimate government.”

Saturday, April 23 Saudi and Emirati forces launched an operation along with local Yemeni fighters to push al-Qaeda out of the southern port city of Mukalla. This marks a turning point in the coalition’s military operations, as most campaigns have targeted the Houthis rather than AQAP.

Sunday, April 24 UN Special Envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed decided to suspend Sunday's session of Yemen's peace talks due to a lack of progress. The Houthis claim to have the upper hand in negotiations and therefore want more of a say in the government, while the Hadi government insists that the Houthis hand over their weapons and pull out of major cities.

The coalition’s offensive against al-Qaeda continued early on Sunday, with Saudi and Emirati airstrikes providing cover for on-the-ground fighters. Forces reportedly entered eastern Mukalla, driving out al-Qaeda militants. The death toll on both sides is still unclear. Some view this offensive as an attempt by the Saudis to gain control of southern Yemen, while others believe it was prompted by Obama’s recent visit to Riyadh where he may have expressed concerns that the Saudi-led war in Yemen is empowering al-Qaeda.

Crisis Group: Can the Kuwait peace talks break Yemen’s deadlock?

Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula, April Longley Alley, explains in a Q&A why she is cautiously hopeful that this week’s negotiations in Kuwait may see the return of a political process to Yemen. According to Alley, both parties to the war are facing increased pressure to end the conflict. The Houthis have been pushed back on several fronts and are encountering serious economic challenges, making them more open to negotiations. Meanwhile, the Saudis are facing both a tightened budget and pressure from the international community and humanitarian rights organizations to end the war.

What we can say for sure is that this is the best chance that Yemen has had since the beginning of the war to return to a political process. For the first time, the two protagonists with the capacity to end major combat, the Houthis and the Saudis, seem more willing than ever to do so.

Despite the clear advantages of ending the conflict, there are many potential spoilers to a deal. The ongoing ceasefire, which began on midnight on April 11, was quickly violated by both parties, although it is still holding better than previous ceasefires.

Furthermore, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi both pose threats to the peace process. Saleh, who has consistently been excluded from talks with the Saudis despite his allegiance with the Houthis, is likely to be a spoiler for current negotiations. Hadi, meanwhile, insists on fully implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which would unrealistically require the Houthis to disarm and withdraw from all seized territory.

As it stands, the ongoing talks in Kuwait do not represent all Yemeni factions relevant to the conflict. As Alley explains, the talks would need to be broadened to ensure an extended ceasefire and resolve political issues such as the timing of elections, transitional justice and state structure.

Of the five focus points of the negotiations outlined by the UN, the most critical, according to Alley, is an agreement on mutually acceptable interim security arrangements, which could provide an environment that facilitates the return of a government.

This opportunity to end the war in Yemen and find a political resolution cannot be missed, say Alley.

“If this chance is not seized, we might be back to a situation where Yemen is off the radar again...with continuing devastating consequences for the civilian population.”

Is the Houthi-Saleh Alliance Cracking? - Schwedler

A recent piece by Jillian Schwedler for the Atlantic Council explains the basis for the Houthi-Saleh alliance and its impending collapse. This marriage of convenience between historically opposed parties is not likely to outlast the ongoing war, and will possibly fall apart even earlier. A Houthi-led march in Sanʻa, which commemorated the five-year anniversary of the revolution that ended in Saleh’s forced resignation, may be the most recent indication of the alliance’s disintegration. For over a decade, and up until the 2012-14 transition period, Saleh and the Houthis butted heads. Though at first Saleh supported the Zaydi revivalist movement--seeing it as a useful counterbalance to Saudi influence in the far north, he turned on the Houthis in the early 2000s, wary of Husayn al-Houthi’s rapidly-growing power. Husayn, who was succeeded by his younger brother Abd al-Malik after his death, assembled militias in 2004 to defend the movement against the regime’s crackdown. The conflict between the Houthis and Saleh continued for years; their eventual alliance was rooted not in mutual interests but in mutual opposition to Hadi’s monopolization of the transition process.

“Between the Houthis and Saleh, there is more than enough hubris to go around. Each seems convinced it can dispense the other with ease once the Saudi-led campaign ends. But with no signs of that happening soon, will the coalition endure?”

Saleh benefits from the Houthis’ experienced militias, strong alliances with northern tribes, and their followers, who rally to their message of Zaydi (and, more generally, Yemeni) empowerment. The Houthis, meanwhile, face strong opposition and cannot survive without Saleh’s formally-trained national army and support from his patronage networks.

There is no end in sight for the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and this is putting a strain on the already uncomfortable alliance. Both parties are likely looking for ways to split from each other as soon as the dust settles. This may be more easily achieved by the Houthis. They are currently in mid-level negotiations with the Saudis, who are reportedly insistent that Saleh not be a part of Yemen’s future.