As Yemen teeters on the precipice of civil war, other countries in the region have begun to join the country’s conflict. This conflict, between the Shiite rebel population of Houthis and the Yemeni government, has grown to include Saudi-led airstrikes for the last week. The Saudi-led campaign aims to weaken the Iran-backed rebels who are loyal to Yemen’s deposed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and to halt their advancements toward political power within the state. For the last year, Houthis have overrun the country’s capital of Sanaa, as well as several other small provinces in the country, and have pushed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee from Yemen.
Since their advance began last year, the Houthis have overrun the Yemeni capital and several other provinces and have forced the current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to flee the country. While many state and non-state actors believed that international intervention was necessary, different bodies of the United Nations and international aid organizations have expressed concern over the high number of civilian casualties sustained in the conflict since the airstrikes began.
The “security vacuum,” as CBS News calls it, created by the Houthi conflict, has left much of the Yemen administrative forces distracted from their typical duties. This morning, Al-Qaeda fighters seized the opportunity created by the distraction and attacked a Yemeni prison in the south-east and freed several hundred prisoners. Among them was Khalid Batardi, a senior commander of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
This escape, along with the high number of civilian casualties, is a dark stain on the Saudi-led initiative against the Houthis violent progress in Yemen. Backed by the United States, the attacks have spurred Yemen into further chaos, and many worry that this prison break is only the beginning of Al-Qaeda activity beneath the shadow of the conflict within the country.
“Observers have warned that Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, classified by the United States as the network’s deadliest franchise, could exploit the unrest to strengthen its presence in the country.” (Aljazeera America) As Aljazeera warned a week ago, Yemen currently houses “the perfect set of conditions for a dangerous yet contained group like AQAP to suddenly grow larger and to funnel Sunni anger as they have in Iraq and Syria. No one is talking about AQAP, instead focusing on the Houthis.”
For the past few years, Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations have alleged that AQAP (as well as the Yemeni military) may be recruiting and using child soldiers in their operations throughout the country. Following the UN’s recent report outlining massive human rights violations committed by ISIL in Iraq, the international community is largely waiting to see how the UN approaches the actions of other terror groups. This, paired with Saudi Arabia’s poor record of human rights violations and the international community’s apprehension at the role of the US in largely indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen, amounts to a potentially polarizing international incident that will be examined under the microscope of state and non-state actors across the globe.