By: Ronnan Rodas*

Despite earning the unfortunate title of the world’s “forgotten war”, the ongoing conflict in Yemen is by no means one we should ignore. In a civil war in which the death toll will likely exceed 233,000 by the end of the year [1], the status quo in Yemen is unacceptable for humanity’s sake. This civil war in Yemen continues to be a pressing matter for various actors in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Iran. Essentially a proxy war between the warring states, the Yemen Civil War deserves our attention– and unfortunately, American involvement. The atrocities committed and the pending fallout of the conflict are more than enough grounds for international sanction and outrage. Furthermore, American involvement in the conflict is perhaps the best course of action. Although critics of President Trump’s decision to veto a bill that would have ended US involvement may appear to be short-sighted– charging that doing so would strengthen the resolve between the US and Saudi Arabia at the expense of inciting more terror and radicalization in the region– the reality is that a Yemen under Irani influence is not ideal for anyone other than Iran and its allies.

Overview of the Conflict

We can trace back the roots of the war to post-Arab Spring Yemen, where then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to abdicate power to his Vice President, the weaker Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. [2] Hadi would face the cumbersome task of leading Yemen in the midst of mass corruption, food shortages, jihadist attacks, and an unwavering loyalty to the outed Saleh from his own security forces. [3] His inability to wade through these difficulties sparked the rise of the Houthi movement, which saw his weakness as an opportunity to begin seizures of large swaths of land from the Yemeni government, such as the Saada province [4]. Troops loyal to Hadi first clashed with rebel forces, who were loyal to his predecessor Saleh, in the spring of 2015. Known as the Battle of Aden Airport, this encounter is regarded as the beginning of the Yemen Civil War [5].

The two main belligerents of the civil war are the Houthi rebels, Yemeni fighters who are allegedly backed by Iran, and the Yemeni National Army, representing the official Yemen government backed by Saudi Arabia. [6] Wrought with a disorganized command structure, the Houthi militia suffers from a severe lack of cohesion within their ranks. [7] Their already unclear objective is further muddied by their habitual defiance of Irani demands, namely the capture of Sana’a province. [8] Although the general consensus tends to be that Iran supplies the Houthis with money and arms, Iran denies having any support for the Houthis. [9] Being that the opposing Yemeni National Army is undeniably backed by Saudi Arabia, Iran has a clear hand in the matter, and their support for the Houthis would be consistent with their contentious relationship with the Saudis. With this context in mind, we can then see how the conflict in Yemen proves to be obvious grounds for a bitter proxy war– in which the United States, unfortunately, must play a role.

The Role of the United States

Through their alliance with the Saudis, the United States has discernible stakes in Yemen. Securing a steady supply of oil as well as having a dependable ally in the region is well within the US’ national security interests. [10] Unfortunately, the United States, recognizing the utility in maintaining this relationship with the Saudis, has a controversial tendency to discount or ignore Saudi Arabia’s awful human rights record. [11] Clearly, this is not ideal– but this may be the unfortunate price the US must pay to achieve some type of strategic advantage in the region.

The relationship has prompted the Trump administration to support Saudi Arabia’s war efforts in Yemen– in the form of providing ammunitions, bombs, and troops, as well as conducting routine airstrikes in regions hostile to the Yemeni national government. [12] In fact, the Saudis received north of a hundred billion dollars worth of arms to bolster their efforts in Yemen in a 2017 arms deal to the country. [13]

At first glance, this support may appear to be in vain. Why should the US lend such substantial assistance to a contemptible, nefarious country responsible for decades of terrorism and human rights violations? The reality is that in this partnership– in which the ends justify the means– American security interests in the region are secured. A scenario in which the United States plays virtually no role anywhere in the Middle East sounds ideal– but it simply is not tenable. The influence Iran has invested in Yemen can not be ignored; although neither can the ongoing humanitarian crisis. However, a Houthi-Iran victory in Yemen would be eerily akin to a Iran-Russia victory in Syria. [14] In both cases, the anti-American, anti-Western ideals and anti-Semitic coalition would achieve a valuable strategic victory; the leverage at stake should not be conceded to our adversaries. Yemen is a valuable regional asset for a number of reasons– one being its location connecting the Red Sea with the Arabian Sea.   This area happens to be where many a vast number of imports set to ship to the United States sail from. [15] The Houthis have used their captured lands of Yemen to target these ships, some containing oil, to prompt chaos and instability in the international shipping industry of the region; yet another success for Assad. [16] Ending US involvement is essentially conceding the region to the Assad regime; a regime notorious for having no regard for civilian deaths.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia, unchecked by US support and advisory, would most likely spell disaster for Yemeni civilians, even more so than the current situations. Their unwavering hostility towards Iran and the Houthis would be prioritized before any civilian casualties they inflict. [17] In other words, withdrawal of US support to the Saudi-led coalition would empower the Houthi rebels, much to Tehran’s satisfaction and to Yemen’s demise. Civilian strongholds of the country, the port of Hodeidah for instance, would be devastated by the virulent wrath of anti- Iran forces–namely the United Arab Emirates who aim to rain a storm of ballistic missiles if the Houthi forces maintain their control there. [18] Without US involvement and pressure, our allies will unfortunately cause an innumerable amount of civilian deaths in Hodeidah.


The situation the United States finds itself in Yemen is a stark reminder of what is at stake national security-wise. Are we simply going to enable our adversaries gain a strategic edge over us in the Middle East? Is allowing the Saudis and the UAE devise their own plan of action with no regard for Yemeni civilians a humanitarian ideal? US intervention, by providing a much-needed check on our allies, provides a sensible way of realizing the end of the humanitarian crisis.  Although ending involvement in a fierce civil war sounds like it would benefit the US, further analysis of the consequences points to a rather detrimental outcome instead. Of course this is a less than desirable reality– but if the world would like to see the end of a humanitarian crisis, tough decisions must be made. Walking away from the problem leaves the US just as guilty as those causing the terror.

[1] James Reinl, “Yemen Death Toll to Surpass 230,000 by End of 2019: UN Report.” Middle East Eye, 26 Apr. 2019,

[2] BBC News, “Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?”, last modified 21 March 2019,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mohammed Ateen and Nafeesa Syeed, “Yemen Forces Loyal to Hadi Seize Aden Airport From Houthis.” Bloomberg. 29 March 2015.

[6] BBC News, “Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?”, last modified 21 March 2019,

[7] Bethan McKernan, “Who are the Houthis and why are they fighting the Saudi coalition in Yemen?”. The Guardian. 21 November 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alastair Jamieson, “Who Are Yemen’s Houthis and What Do They Want?”, NBC News.

[10] Joshua Keating, “The Fight For Survival Behind Saudi Arabia’s Purge”, Slate.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Marlo Safi, “Understanding U.S. Involvement in Yemen’s ‘Forgotten War.” The National Review.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Michael Knights, Kenneth M. Pollack, & Barbara F. Walter, “A Real Plan to End the War in Yemen.” Foreign Affairs. 2 May, 2019.

[16] Fatima Alasrar, “Yemen is Bad but It Would be Worse Without US Involvement.” National Interest. 25 July 2018.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Tom Rogan, “Ending US support for Saudi Arabia would make things much worse.” Washington Examiner. 28 November 2018.

*Disclaimer: The content contained in the following material is the sole ownership of the author and does not reflect the Towson University Journal of International Affairs nor Towson University in any respect whatsoever.