Recent fighting in Shabwa highlights lack of unity of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, threatening its ability to present a common front against the Houthis.
Gregory D. Johnsen
Non-Resident Fellow, AGSIW; Former Member, U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen
Gregory D. Johnsen is a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan, a Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow in Egypt. In 2013-14 he was selected as BuzzFeed’s inaugural Michael Hastings National Security Reporting Fellow where he won a Dirksen Award from the National Press Foundation and, in collaboration with Radiolab, a Peabody Award. He has a PhD from Princeton University and master’s degrees from Princeton and the University of Arizona. Johnsen is the author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia (W.W. Norton), which has been translated into multiple languages. From 2016-18 he served on the Yemen Panel of Experts for the United Nations Security Council. In 2019, he served as the lead writer for the United States Institute of Peace’s Syria Study Group. His writing on Yemen and terrorism has appeared in, among others, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Foreign Policy.
If the United States wants to avoid a disaster scenario in Yemen, it should shift its focus from the failed attempt to resurrect a single Yemeni state to laying the groundwork for a divided Yemen.
Yemen’s fragile truce is being extended, but there is still a massive amount of work needed to bring the conflict to an end.
Yemen’s new presidential council was made in Saudi Arabia and backed by the UAE, which means it may struggle to find legitimacy on the ground.
An agreement is likely still a long way off in Yemen, but at least some of the parties are starting to talk, listen, and, ever so slowly, compromise.
Seven years since their intervention in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE remain mired in a disaster, and they’ll need U.S. assistance to end the war.
The length of the war and the associated costs have led the UAE to recalibrate its position in Yemen, but influence in southern Yemen remains a key part of its regional strategy.
If the Houthis believe their military offensive in Marib is in danger, they will likely look to the only real ally they have, Iran.
UAE, Saudi, and affiliated local forces have begun withdrawing from locations across southern and western Yemen; while couched as “redeployments,” together the moves suggest the Saudi-led coalition is actively looking for an exit strategy.
With the Houthis making gains in their offensive on Marib, and anti-Houthi alliance fragmenting, the United States is out of options on Yemen.