By Sam Danello
Yemen has a long and tragic history of violence. In 2004, Houthi militants organized a northern uprising and spawned a protracted conflict. Tens of thousands of people were killed. Even before 2004, Yemen was the poorest country in the Arab world, home to an authoritarian government and violent extremists.
Until 2014, however, violence largely stayed in the north. Then Houthi rebels seized Sanaa, the country’s capital. Backed by Iran, the militants pushed south and sparked the 2015 intervention of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The United States sided with the Saudi-led coalition, supplying billions of dollars of weapons, intelligence, and diplomatic help.
Violence in Yemen has caused widespread famine and the loss of development gains. More than 2.2 million people have been displaced, and nearly 7,000 have died. The need for humanitarian assistance is staggering, with over 20 million people dependent on aid.
Coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians. On August 9th, for example, an American-made bomb killed 40 children in northern Yemen. By supporting Saudi violence, the United States has spread resentment and buttressed violent extremists, many affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The Alliance for Peacebuilding applauds recent bipartisan efforts by the House and Senate to hold policymakers accountable. On Sept. 6, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and 10 House colleagues released a letter pledging to introduce a privileged resolution if the United States did not change policy towards Yemen. Under the War Powers Act, such a resolution would force a House vote.
Meanwhile, in an annual defense spending bill, the Senate conditioned funds on whether the Saudi-led coalition truly prioritized humanitarian aims and limited civilian harm. While the Trump administration defended these claims, the bill opened a powerful discussion. More politicians are debating the morality of military support, and political momentum is building.
Previous attempts to curb American involvement have fallen short. In the fall of 2017, representatives failed to secure privileged status for a bill similar to the current one. In March, the Senate defeated a proposal that would have curtailed military support to the Saudi-led coalition.
For the United States government, policy change is critical. On Sept. 7, the bipartisan Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States uploaded its first report. Released through the U.S. Institute of Peace, “Beyond the Homeland” cites Yemen to argue that political instability and conflict breed extremism. Indeed, AQAP has flourished “where governments fail to provide for their citizens, enabling terrorist groups to step in to fill the void.” Rather than stabilizing Yemen, the military campaign is fueling violent extremism.
Even in the midst of conflict, civil society organizations have sought to build peace and reduce violence in Yemen for decades. Search for Common Ground is supporting local mediation committees and analyzing causes of conflict in Yemen. PartnersGlobal is focusing on transitional justice programs in the country. Mercy Corps, active across the world, works in Yemen to provide emergency response and economic empowerment. Saferworld specializes in supporting women, youth, and community groups in Yemen
These efforts, however critical, will not end the conflict. Practically and morally, the United States has an obligation to halt military aid and promote nonviolent solutions. Only this path leads to sustainable peace.
Sam Danello is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow with the Alliance for Peacebuilding.