March 25 marks the fifth anniversary of the brutal war in Yemen. Code-named Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations began with airstrikes and a naval blockade against the Houthi rebels with a goal of restoring Yemen’s ousted government. With early and generous American military support to the Saudi-led coalition, this war has created the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. And things could easily get even worse.
The coronavirus has recently begun to spread from Iran into the greater Middle East. Yemen’s dilapidated health infrastructure and frail population – at greater risk due to years of hunger, disease, and displacement from violent conflict - has world health experts worried about a disaster scenario when the virus inevitably arrives and takes root.
On this heartbreaking 5th anniversary of the war, the United States must end the obstruction of humanitarian assistance, press for a nationwide ceasefire, and support a diplomatic settlement to the war.
After five years of war, roughly 14 million people are at risk of famine and over 24 million people rely on food assistance for survival. Aid agencies have described Yemen as the worst place on earth to be a child, with the conflict claiming the lives of at least 85,000 under the age of five. More than 2 million people have been infected with cholera, while an alarming dengue and influenza epidemic is gripping the country. The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade has impeded the flow of food, fuel, and medicine, which has threatened the lives of millions. And our decision to suspend all humanitarian aid (due to reports that some aid was being diverted) is not morally sustainable in light of the added urgency of coronavirus.
Our Constitution is designed to let the people - through their elected representatives - decide whether and when our nation goes to war. This ensures such decisions are not taken lightly and, in theory, that we don’t get bogged down in endless wars. Congress has not authorized military action in Yemen, and therefore should not permit funds to be used in support of the fighting.
It is no coincidence that the Stockholm Agreement - paving the way for a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida - was signed the same day Congress passed legislation to end military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Following the ceasefire, Congress forced more Yemen war votes, helping push the UAE to draw down its forces in Yemen, spur a reduction in cross border attacks by the Saudis and Houthis, and revive negotiations between the warring parties.
In 2019, there was a major reduction in cross border violence between Saudis and the Houthis, due in part to congressional action. But after congressional negotiators dropped provisions to end military assistance to the Saudis, Yemen suffered a breakdown in diplomacy and an uptick in violence. Between December 2019 and January 2020, the total number of Saudi air raids jumped 294 percent. By February, air raids were up another 118 percent.
Last September, the UN released a report indicating that by providing military aid, intelligence sharing, logistical support, and weapons to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the U.S. may be complicit in war crimes. The report documents horrific violations of international law, including airstrikes targeting civilian and agricultural infrastructure, arbitrary killings, torture, detention, and sexual violence against women.
After five years of unimaginable human suffering, Yemen can’t wait any longer. Congress must renew its efforts to end military support for the war. By forcing more votes to prohibit unauthorized military support and weapon sales, Congress can pressure the warring parties to sit at the bargaining table and bring this devastating war to an end.
Hassan El-Tayyab is FCNL’s lead lobbyist on Middle East policy and affairs. Prior to joining FCNL, he was co-director of the national advocacy group Just Foreign Policy, where he led their lobbying work to advance a more progressive foreign policy in the Middle East and Latin America.