January 22, 2015 | Quote

Chaos in Yemen: Who Are the Key Players?

Iranian support to the Houthis has filled a void created by a withdrawal of Saudi support for Yemen's government, and it doesn't bode well for the U.S.-Yemen relationship, said analyst Oren Adaki of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, a Washington think tank.

“They come with a virulently anti-American agenda,” Adaki said. “They're against American interests and influence in the region.”


The Yemeni government is led by Sunni leaders who've been heavily subsidized and supported militarily by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis brokered the agreement that led to Saleh's resignation and provided enormous financial support, including fuel subsidies to the Yemeni government, Seche said.

When the Houthis launched their offensive against Yemeni forces in July, however, Saudi Arabia was occupied with confronting the Islamic State radicals who were seizing territory in Iraq, and withdrew support for Yemen, says David Weinberg, who studies the Gulf monarchies for the Foundation for Defense of Democracy.

The U.S. military has also been working with Yemeni government forces to counter al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been active in the Sunni hinterlands, but the future of that operation could be at risk.

AQAP has launched multiple attacks against Western targets, including the “underwear bomber” who tried to detonate explosives on a U.S.-bound jetliner on Christmas Eve 2009. They also tried to send explosives hidden in printer toner cartridges into the USA on cargo planes. The group also claimed it was behind the Paris terrorist attacks that left 17 dead.

AQAP seized territory in Yemen in 2010. A massive U.S. operation — including drone attacks and support of Yemeni armed forces — forced AQAP into tribal areas hostile to government troops, Seche said.

Since the collapse of Yemeni security forces during the Houthi offensive, AQAP remains the last force in Yemen fighting the Shiites, and they've characterized the confrontation in purely sectarian terms, Adaki said.

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