For an American who had a hand in shaping U.S. Mideast policy during the Barack Obama years, coming to Yemen has the unpleasant feel of visiting the scene of a tragedy one helped co-write.
It is a scene whose most heartrending aspects are not easily accessible to a visitor. It is still possible to travel north, to the war-battered capital, Sanaa, now controlled by the Houthi insurgent group, or up the Red Sea coast, where a catastrophic struggle for control over the port city of Hodeidah still looms, but it’s a challenge. So when one of us recently ventured into the country, the journey went no farther than Aden, the southern port city over which the internationally recognized government regained control early in the conflict with the help of a Saudi-led coalition.
Aden does not bear wounds witnessed elsewhere: the spread of cholera, 80 percent of the population requiring humanitarian assistance, and a large number threatened with famine. Yet even there, signs of war abound. Aden today is faring better than many other Yemeni cities, and security there is much improved compared with even six months ago, but the bar is low. Many buildings were hit, some completely destroyed, only very few repaired after the Houthis were pushed out. Along with the physical scars are security ones. Rival forces and militias man checkpoints. Parts of the city are controlled by government forces, others by the Security Belt, a separatist-leaning armed group backed by the United Arab Emirates nominally falling under the Yemeni government; the two sides fought a brief but bitter battle a little over a year ago, which concluded with an uneasy truce. [Continue reading…]