How the War Broke out in Yemen

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Yemen has seen its fair share of wars throughout its recent history, building a reputation for itself as a battle-hardened warring nation. This common misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is the majority of the Yemeni people are kind hearted and humble folk who just want to live a life without fear of a bomb being dropped on their head as they sleep or witnessing their children losing limbs after trying to pick up an old hidden mine or cluster munition. No people are born ‘war-like’ but the sad fact is some people are born into a region plagued by war, Yemen is one of those countries most heavily affected by monstrous conflicts in our modern history.

As you read this, Yemen is currently besieged by a Saudi-led ‘Coalition against terrorism’ which has so far spent most of its time dropping bombs on unarmed and innocent Yemeni civilians. The UN made clear last year that the number one cause of civilian deaths in Yemen was due to the Saudi-led coalition bombing of the country. [1] This bombing campaign comes as a result of Saudi’s forceful attempt to bring their ally and exiled ex-president of Yemen, Mansur Al-Hadi, back into power after he was rejected by the General People’s Congress and 3 days later ousted from the Presidential palace by Yemeni revolutionaries back in late 2014. [2] Forces loyal to Saudi Arabia & ex-president Hadi have mobilised a military offensive in the South and have succeeded in occupying major southern cities, including the large port city of Aden. These Saudi-backed pro-Hadi forces are made up of various factions including southern Yemen separatist militias, foreign Persian Gulf paid mercenaries, ex-army defectors, and most importantly radical Salafist fighters with loyalties to Al-Qaeda. [3]

The Al-Qaeda Emirate of Yemen

Al-Qaeda has a long history in Yemen, for years Yemen was seen as the biggest hub for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a key base of operations for training and radicalization of new takfiris ready to travel abroad and commit acts of terror against the West and across the Muslim world. Since the 9/11 attacks, Yemen has been one of the biggest targets of the USA’s drone strike operation targeting terrorists with around 113-144 drone strikes launched, 42 AQAP leaders killed and numerous AQAP bases destroyed. This drone offensive has been a massive failure; Al-Qaeda’s influence in Yemen has continued to not only endure but also expand greatly. Now, under the massive social turmoil and collapse of both the Yemeni political & security apparatus, AQAP has flourished as one of the major power holders in the country.

Things have become so prosperous for AQAP in Yemen that the group now runs a de facto mini-state, flush with funds from raiding the local central bank of a possible $100 million in 2016 and consistent levying of taxes from the thousands of residents and businesses that live in Al-Qaeda run towns, villages and cities. [4] If the ISIS caliphate capitals are Raqqa and (the soon to be liberated) Mosul then AQAP capital is indeed Al-Mukalla, a southern port city in Yemen, home to at least 300,000 people. [5]

Al-Qaeda is doing very well under the current circumstances and Saudi Arabia’s so-called ‘coalition against terrorism’ has done nothing to combat Al-Qaeda’s rise to prominence in Saudi’s neighbouring country, Yemen. Now it seems Al-Qaeda elements are actively fighting alongside Saudi’s Pro-Hadi proxy forces in southern Yemen trying to push back the Yemeni army and Houthi allies in the north. [6]

Saudi Arabia’s coalition against terror sprung into life after the Houthi’s, who are associated with Iran and Shia Islam by both Saudi and Al-Qaeda, led a popular revolution which ousted the Hadi run administration but all the time AQAP, a recognised Salafist terror organisation responsible for massive terror attacks across the globe, was growing in power the no such response was incurred by Saudi or its Persian Gulf partners.

The truth is Saudi’s coalition is sectarian to the core. The Saudi state religion is the same Wahhabi-Salafi ideology which Al-Qaeda’s strict interpretation of Islam also adheres to. The same can also be said about ISIS, who have also begun springing up officially in Yemen since early 2015. ISIS is another radical Salafist organisation which has also utilised the conflict in Yemen to open up branches in areas of the south and expand its presence in Yemen; Saudi Arabia and its coalition have done little to stop this in comparison to the efforts made by the coalition to tackle the so-called ‘Iran-backed Shia Houthis’.

It has been only a few days into the new American Presidents term, yet already his administration has launched drone strikes targeting AQAP & ISIS targets in Yemen. [7] Drone strikes have proven to be an ineffective and heavily overused tactic by the US in Yemen, so unless some other element in the current stalemate of the Yemen war changed dramatically, all we can hope to see in the future is a continued empowerment and growth of Al-Qaeda’s emirate in Yemen and possibly the beginning of a new ISIS mini-caliphate.


ISIS and Al-Qaeda have competed for power over the political domination of the Salafist world dating back to the organisation’s origins in Iraq and the group’s official break away from the Al-Qaeda franchise back in 2014. At one point Al-Qaeda became almost completely irrelevant when the ISIS caliphate spread rapidly across Syria & Iraq but now with the military defeat of ISIS looming in both those countries, Al-Qaeda has now re-established its former title as the leader of the radical Sunni world and created its own self-declared Emirate in Yemen. [8] Al-Qaeda has re-established itself as a respected organisation across a sizeable chunk of the Arab Sunni community while ISIS has built a gruesome reputation which seems to resemble a death cult rather than a passable Islamic organisation. The groups cruel and bloodthirsty reputation has created a barrier for its future ability to expand and recruit in new areas.

Al-Qaeda has a much more favourable legacy which many Sunni Muslims who look to them with admiration rather than fear or disgust as most do to ISIS. In countries which have a sizeable downtrodden and impoverished Sunni community, Al-Qaeda’s acceptance among the general population becomes more obtainable. This level of acceptance can be found in much of the Sunni-majority southern Yemen. ISIS may never be able to recreate its exploits in Syria & Iraq but we may see an attempt by ISIS to challenge Al-Qaeda’s dominant hold in politically unstable Sunni majority countries like Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, which can only mean more future bloodshed.

The Future for Yemen

There does not seem to be a realistic end to the costly fighting in Yemen anytime soon on the horizon but what is clear is the fact that Al-Qaeda is taking full advantage of the failed state and further expanding its influence across the so-called ‘Saudi liberated areas’ of southern Yemen. Suicide bomb attacks, assassinations of Yemeni officials [9] and the infiltration into normal Yemeni society including in the major cities is all forcing the last remaining legitimate Yemen authorities to accept a slow but gradual takeover of south Yemen society by Al-Qaeda and become acquiesce. [10] Saudi’s sectarian coalition will not take on the responsibility of pushing back the major gains both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have made, in fact, Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies probably see a major Salafist takeover of a traditionally diverse multi-faith Yemen a positive geopolitical update.

Al-Qaeda has land, cities, oil revenue, freedom to operate and a sophisticated smuggling trade on the south Yemen coast which bring in any supplies needed to fuel their Salafist Emirate. [11] All of this can be taken away from them by force in the future but what is much more damaging to the hope of a better future for Yemen is a growing support and successful propaganda being deployed by Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen. Al-Qaeda has launched a massive public relations campaign in Yemen with propaganda that shows Al-Qaeda members building roads, providing basic services which the government failed to do and defending the people from a corrupt northern Yemen elite which has dominated Yemeni politics for decades. Al-Qaeda is building a support base in southern Yemen that will become a powerful tool in ensuring the survival of the organisation.

As proven in north Yemen with the Saudi bombing campaign against the new Sanaa-based government, a popular movement can be near impossible to defeat using the basic modern military tactics. It is undeniable that the joint Saleh-Houthi alliance in the north has massive popular support among northern Yemenis but also equally undeniable is the fast growing popularity of Al-Qaeda and radical Salafism in the south.

The future possibility of a joint unified Yemen is at huge risk, the north-south divide is becoming wider by the day. The Saudi siege and the west’s support for the coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen are creating massive resentment and misery among the population across all of Yemen. The lack of schools, hospitals, jobs and basic services due to the massive loss of infrastructure in this conflict will create an abysmal future for the youth of Yemen who are growing up in a theatre of constant war. I think the UK Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who visited Yemen mid-January 2017 [12], was absolutely correct when he said upon his return to the UK that Britain’s support for the Saudi Coalition “will stoke a further generation of terror” and lead to “threats to Europe.” [14] The resentment being created in Yemen by the west’s continued support for the Saudi coalitions aggression in Yemen will be long felt and cannot be fixed with more bombs.

Under the current rate, Al-Qaeda’s Emirate will continue to grow in popularity, size and wealth. By the time ISIS is militarily defeated in Iraq & Syria we may find that Al-Qaeda (possibly ISIS too) has created an even greater Emirate in Yemen. Al-Qaeda & ISIS are both franchise organisations which can spring up in any country at any time. Suicide lone wolf attacks are incredibly difficult to defend against may become a much more regular occurrence the future. What the West is involved in now with Saudi Arabia is creating massive hatred and resentment towards the West which provides Al-Qaeda with the perfect environment to recruit young radicals with a vengeful eye on the west.


[1] Russia Today World News (Published time: 25 Aug, 2016 13:07 )Saudi-led coalition airstrikes #1 cause of civilian deaths in Yemen – UN body,Available at: Edited time: 4 Jan, 2017 16:11).

[2] Reuters World News (Sat Nov 8, 2014 | 2:20pm EST)Yemen’s Houthis reject new power-sharing government,Available at:

[3] BBC World News (22 February 2016)Yemen conflict: Al-Qaeda seen at coalition battle for Taiz,Available at:

[4] Yara Bayoumy, Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari (April 8, 2016, 9 a.m. GMT)How Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has made al Qaeda stronger – and richer,Available at:


[6] M Ghabrial and Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki (Last update: Sunday 13 September 2015 13:46 UTC)Emirati, Egyptian reluctance to work with locals complicates Taiz battle,Available at: Friday 11 September 2015 16:18 UTC )

[7] Russia Today (Published time: 23 Jan, 2017 21:11)1st US drone strikes on Trump’s watch hit Al-Qaeda in Yemen & ISIS,Available at: Edited time: 24 Jan, 2017 11:57).

[8] Vasudevan Sridharan (July 23, 2014 11:44 BST)Yemeni Al-Qaeda Establishing ‘Islamic Emirate’ to Compete with Isis,Available at:

[9] The New Arab (Date of publication: 30 September, 2016)Senior Yemeni colonel assassinated in Aden,Available at:

[10] Patrick Cockburn (Friday 15 April 2016)Thanks to UK and US intervention, al-Qaeda now has a mini-state in Yemen. It’s Iraq and Isis all over again,Available at:

[11] Secular talk (Published on 13 Apr 2016)Al-Qaeda Flourishing In Yemen Thanks To Saudi Arabia & The U.S.,Available at:

[12] The Global Herald (12 Jan 2017)Yemen: British MP visits Houthi stronghold,Available at:

[13] Laura Hughes, political correspondent (16 JANUARY 2017 • 10:00PM)Exclusive: Britain’s ‘confused’ Yemen policy is increasing the risk of UK terror attack, warns Andrew Mitchell ,Available at:

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