The Crisis in Yemen: Points of Concern – NYTimes.com
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is embroiled in a struggle for power that has serious implications for the region and the security of the United States. The expanding conflict took an ominous step on Wednesday when Saudi Arabia said it launched airstrikes against rebels who have tightened their grip on Yemen.
Here are some concerns raised by the crisis in Yemen.
A Blow to U.S. Counterterrorism Operations
Until the growing chaos forced the evacuation of 125 United States Special Operations advisers last week, Yemen served as a partner in American counterterrorism operations, mainly against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which has been linked to at least three plots to blow up airliners since 2009. Without American eyes and ears on the ground, efforts to thwart Al Qaeda will be more difficult.
Internal Chaos Verging on Civil War
Yemen’s security situation has drastically deteriorated since Shiite rebels known as Houthis from northern Yemen seized the capital, Sana, in January. For years until 2010, the Houthis had waged an insurgency against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed to step down in 2011 in the wake of popular protests inspired by the Arab Spring. But less than four years later, the Houthis are now collaborating with security forces still loyal to Mr. Saleh, a reflection of the shifting alliances at work in Yemen.
With this support, the Houthis have forced Mr. Saleh’s successor, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, into hiding, leaving the country with no internationally recognized government. The Houthis now control most of the Yemeni military, including its aircraft, giving them a military advantage against the forces still loyal to Mr. Hadi.
Fears of a Wider Conflict
The leaders of Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Yemen, are especially worried by the Houthis because they believe that the rebels are backed by Iran. The Saudis said Wednesday that their military action against the rebels was an operation to restore Yemen’s government. But the Saudi intervention raises the possibility of a proxy war in Yemen and a wider regional conflict.
An Opening for Extremists
American officials fear that the emerging security vacuum could attract even more jihadists to lawless regions of Yemen. Last week a group calling itself an affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombing Shiite mosques, increasing fears that it will try to ignite the sectarian tensions already roiling Yemen. The examples of Syria, Iraq and Libya have shown how extremists can take advantage of chaos.