As Yemenis mark the passing of five full years since the Saudi-led coalition started its offensive, they reflect on the changes which have taken place in their country during this time. Anniversaries can be happy or sad occasions, this one features unreservedly on the despair scale! When the war started, most Yemenis expected a flare up of a few weeks followed by an agreement as had been the case in previous conflicts in the past decades: few expected that 5 years later, they would be facing a war without apparent end or solution and that they would have been subjected to 20 624 airstrikes during that time, killing 18 400 civilians, according to the conservative estimates of the Yemen Data Project.
As discussed in our recent series of articles on Yemen’s hopes and expectations, 2019 witnessed lack of progress with the two major agreements, Stockholm and Riyadh. The first sponsored by the UN and primarily focused on putting an end to the coalition offensive on Hodeida port, and the second an intra-coalition attempt to solve the crisis between exiled President Hadi’s internationally recognised government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) a separatist movement supported by the UAE. Both are today, at best, on the brink of collapse. Another feature of the year was the continued worsening of the humanitarian situation and persistent barbarity of decision-makers did not make a single compromise which might have eased living and dying conditions for the population at large throughout the country.
So on this anniversary, the only element of the Stockholm Agreement which had achieved any progress during 2019, the cease fire in Hodeida, is seriously threatened by renewed fighting in many parts of the governorate including the ‘joint’ checkpoints set up by the UN Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement [UNMHA], leading most recently to the withdrawal of the representatives of the internationally recognised government. Other elements of the Stockholm deal have remained a dead letter. An agreement reached in mid-February this year for the release of 1500 prisoners has, predictably, failed to materialise in the past month, yet again dashing the hopes of thousands of prisoners and their families. So events in the past two months may well mark the end of the road for Stockholm.
As for the Riyadh Agreement, it never seemed likely to achieve much without active Emirati support for its official Saudi coalition ‘ally’ something which has not, to date, been noticeable on the ground, where the balance of military forces in Aden city and its immediate surroundings favours the STC’s forces including its ‘security belts.’ This is important because of the symbolic importance of Aden as the country’s ‘temporary’ capital. After the official withdrawal of the Emiratis from Aden last autumn, Saudi military and civilian staff are the only representatives of the coalition in the city.
Saudi inability to enforce implementation of the agreement has become increasingly evident through a series of skirmishes, while the STC has successfully prevented the redeployment of government forces in and around Aden. Government aligned forces are far stronger elsewhere in the country, including the southern governorates of Shabwa and Hadramaut and most of Abyan.
In January, the Huthis started major offensives most prominently in the north of the country where fronts had been static for years. They made significant progress north and east of Sana’a, taking control of all of al Jawf governorate along the border with Saudi Arabia by early March. They now threaten Mareb, the one northern area where a semblance of government control still prevails, and which has, in recent years, been promoted as a haven of peace.