Saudi Arabia has announced that it would stop a bombing campaign against a rebel group in neighboring Yemen that the country has undertaken over the past month. American officials said the Obama administration applied pressure for the Saudis and other Sunni Arab nations to end the airstrikes. The bombing campaign has received logistical and intelligence support from the United States. However, it has also been harshly criticized for causing civilian deaths and for not following the broader military strategy for the region.
A statement from the Saudi Defense Ministry announcing the halt reported that the campaign, called Operation Decisive Storm, had achieved its objectives. The airstrikes had a stated goal of restoring the Yemeni government after it collapsed as Houthi rebels took over Sana, the capital of the country. However, the government has not yet been restored so it remains to be seen just how beneficial the airstrikes really were.
The bombing campaign has touched off a devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. The weeks of fighting in Yemen have left nearly a thousand people dead and many more fleeing the fighting. Aid workers state that the lack of appropriate food, medication, and sanitation facilities will cause the situation to deteriorate further in the coming days.
The bombing campaign has also threatened to ignite a broader regional conflict. The escalation of the conflict threatened to immerse the United States and Iran in a potential military confrontation at a very sensitive time. The United States and Iran are currently negotiating a solution that would halt Iran’s nuclear capabilities and remove sanctions that have kept Iran isolated from much of the world in recent years.
Many Saudi Arabian officials believe that the Houthis have been acting as an Iranian proxy in the region, mainly because the leaders of the rebel group adhere to a variant of Shiite Islam. To prevent Iran from trying to arm the Houthis, the Obama administration deployed an armada of warships to staging areas just off Yemen’s coast.
The exact role that Iran has played in the conflict still remains unclear. While Yemeni officials and Western diplomats have reported evidence of Iran supplying arms and other support to the Houthis, the rebel group appears to be acting on their own initiatives. That could make them even more dangerous than previously thought because it makes their moves more unpredictable.