Last month, over the course of a few days in Yemen, one governor survived a roadside bomb while a second was denied entry through a checkpoint ostensibly run by his own government. At a military college in Aden, the government’s temporary capital, pro-secessionist soldiers opened fire on a graduation ceremony in response to the raising of the national flag. Three small security events—barely blips in Yemen’s daily catalogue of strikes that have already disappeared from the news. But each incident happened far from Yemen’s frontlines, and each, in its own way, is a reminder that what we call the war in Yemen is actually three separate yet overlapping conflicts.
There is the U.S.-led war against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen. There is a regional conflict, pitting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Iran. And there is a messy and multi-sided civil war, featuring the Houthis, what’s left of the Yemeni government, a southern secessionist movement, UAE proxy forces, and various different militias—some Salafi, some local, and some closer to criminal gangs—all vying to grab and hold as much territory as they can.
As distinct as these three wars are, each has porous borders, which bleed into one another. So the United States, which is fighting AQAP and the Islamic State, is also aiding Saudi Arabia and the UAE in its war against the Houthis, who are, in turn, themselves fighting AQAP and the Islamic State. UAE proxy forces, which were established to fight AQAP and the Houthis, also periodically clash with government troops loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who asked for the UAE’s military help in the first place. Salafi militias in Taizz fight the Houthis one day and government forces the next. [Continue reading…]