Endgame for the Yemeni war?

Two views on the war in Yemen. President Salih says it will end very soon. "The army is achieving great, great progress in all frontlines, and over the coming few days the victory will be declared," he said on Wednesday.

Well, it's Friday now and the war goes on. But let's give it another week and see what happens.

Since the president's remarks were part of his speech for Yemen's National Day, they could be bombast rather than a serious prediction. Simply ending Operation Scorched Earth and declaring outright victory over the Houthi rebels might sound too implausible to the Yemeni public – especially since he has tried that once before during the five-year conflict.

However, Salih could take a page from ex-President Bush's Iraq war book, declare an end to "major hostilities" and claim that any fighting that follows is merely part of a mopping-up operation. Mission accomplished. Or not.

A different view comes from Gregory Johnsen, of Princeton University and the Waq al-waq blog. In an article for Common Ground News Service, he writes:

The protracted nature of the Yemeni conflict has also led to evolving justifications for its continuation. Tribesmen have been brought into the fighting on both sides. Those backing the Huthis are doing so not out of any adherence to Zaydi theology but rather as a response to government overreaching and military mistakes. In effect, the government’s various military campaigns have created more enemies than it had when the conflict began.

There is, as five years of fighting have made clear, no military solution to this conflict. The Yemeni government has tried and failed numerous times to bomb the Houthis into submission, to no avail. 

Neither side has the political capital to yield to the demands of the other, and members of both sides are benefiting financially from a thriving war economy. But the longer the fighting goes on, the greater the threat to regional security. 

The United States must persuade the EU and, more importantly, Saudi Arabia to present a unified front to the Yemenis, convincing them that the military phase of the conflict is over and that it's time for a political solution.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 16 October 2009.