June 14, 2018

IntelBrief: Yemen War Moves to Hodeida

a child walks on a street in Khoukha, Yemen (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty).
  • A Saudi Arabia and UAE-led group of fighters has launched a two-pronged attack against the crucial port city of Hodeida in Yemen.
  • The port is the main gateway for desperately needed food supplies.
  • The U.N. has repeatedly warned that an attack on the port city could lead to a worsening of the already dire circumstances in Yemen.
  • The U.S. is providing targeting support for the Hodeida offensive, as it has throughout the catastrophic Yemen war.


In a scenario that seemingly could not get worse, the humanitarian and security crises in Yemen deteriorated even further on June 13, 2018, when a coalition of Yemeni fighters backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began a long-anticipated and long-feared attack on the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeida. The situation in Yemen has been assessed by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The attack on Hodeida will likely make the situation, particularly in terms of food shortages, much worse.

The Houthi rebels have controlled Hodeida since 2015. Retaking the crucial port has been a primary goal of the Saudi-led coalition; the UAE has pushed hardest for an attack. The two-pronged assault that began on June 13 involves Yemeni troops who were trained in a UAE military base in neighboring Eritrea. The offensive began with airstrikes in some outer areas of Hodeida. Coalition air strikes have killed numerous civilians and destroyed Yemen’s already beleaguered infrastructure without reversing Houthi gains. The U.S. is directly backing the Hodeida offensive even after publicly urging for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to postpone any attack on the port. The U.S. has provided vital logistical support—mid-air refueling, as well as significant arms sales—to the coalition, and provides intelligence to better shape targeting packages. The U.S. states that its support actually reduces civilian deaths, arguing the toll would be much higher were it not helping the Saudi and UAE pilots.

The undeniable costs of the air war in Yemen—a war in which only one side has an air force—are slowly getting the attention of the U.S. Congress, which has abdicated its oversight role in many ongoing U.S. military operations, Yemen included. On June 12, a bipartisan group of nine Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis specifically about the looming attack on Hodeida. The Senators stressed that any attack on Hodeida would do ‘great harm’ to civilians, and went on to note that civilian casualties and damage to the port would have ‘unacceptable consequences for any responsible member of the community of nations.’ The administration has effectively ignored these pleas.

The attack comes as food scarcity and starvation have become the hallmarks of the war in Yemen. In a June 13 article in the New York Times, Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director in Yemen for the aid agency Care International, is quoted as saying ‘Food imports already reached the lowest levels since the conflict started, and the price of basic commodities has risen by a third. We are gravely concerned that parts of the population could experience famine.’ Damaging the port would be an immediate and long-term catastrophe for Yemen’s hungry and sick civilians. Predictions of a relatively quick victory in Hodeida, with assurances of pinpoint accuracy and limited ‘collateral damage,’ need to be assessed within the context that the disastrous three-year conflict began with the very same assurances.


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