Abayomi Azikiwe: ‘The Yemen crisis is clearly a failure of US foreign policy’

The US, which not long ago called Yemen an example of successful counter-terror strategy, underestimated the power of the Houthis in the country as they have already gained control over several cities, said Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire.

A coalition of Gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia, has launched a military operation in Yemen. It’s aimed at stopping the advance of Shia Houthi militants who control the capital Sana’a, and the coastal city of Aden.

RT:Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf countries are getting involved in the situation in Yemen. Where do you see this heading?

Abayomi Azikiwe: It’s a very dangerous situation. What this represents is the total collapse of US foreign policy in Yemen. They have evacuated their special forces. Approximately 100 of them were stationed in Yemen. At the same time US diplomatic personnel have also been evacuated. The US-backed President Hadi had called for such an intervention.

RT: What reaction do you expect from Iran now?

AA: The Iranians are of course backing the Houthi militia groups because they are part of the Shia alliance that exists throughout the region. Therefore, they will have some political support. But I don’t see them directly intervening militarily in Yemen in response to this escalation by Saudi Arabia. But it is clearly something that has the endorsement of the Obama administration. They have lost their capacity in a sense to intervene directly and are utilizing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] as a proxy force that will try to bolster Hadi in Yemen.

RT: Just six months ago President Obama was calling Yemen a success story. He said: “This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Do you think Washington has been taken by surprise by the latest developments?

AA: Washington has its hands full in Syria, in Iraq, and in other geopolitical regions. This is why they want to rely on the Gulf Cooperation Council. But there was clearly a miscalculation on a part of the Obama administration that they underestimated the power of the Houthi groups inside the country which took control in September of the capital of Sana’a. Just recently they took control of the city of Taiz; they have been moving South over the last several days towards Aden. So it’s clearly a failure of US foreign policy in Yemen.

RT: The city of Aden is home to a major oil refinery and is a major shipping hub. Could we see the Houthi rebels taking control over these supplies as well?

AA: It will be very interesting to see what happens if the Saudis and the GCC utilizes air power. It could perhaps halt their advances. But in the long-term, if the Saudis are not willing to put in massive ground forces then there could be whole struggle developing around the control of Aden. Also, we have to keep in mind that in the South there is a huge separatist movement that is resurfacing: Yemen was divided between the North and the South up until about 25 years ago. The South was a socialist-oriented republic, and the North was more allied with the US and the West. This is another fact that has to be taken into consideration. These separatist movements have been growing over the last several months.

RT: Yemen is seeing a total security collapse. Could it be the next front in the expansion of Islamic State?

AA: We’ll have to see if there is any significant IS intervention. Al-Qaeda has been operating there for a while. This is the raison d’être that the US has utilized for carrying out these drone attacks against the people in Yemen, particularly the so-called al-Qaeda bases there. But it remains to be seen what role the IS may have if they decide to enter in greater numbers in Yemen.

‘Houthi behaved ‘badly’, like overthrowing Saleh’

Saudi Arabian military “is notoriously unreliable” and it is unlikely they would do well in Yemen, says Charles Schmitz, Middle East expert.

Charles Schmitz: “Saudi Arabia has a long involvement inside of Yemen, it has a lot of contacts, there are a lot people who support Saudi Arabia inside of Yemen. I’m not sure what their military involvement will be. Their military is notoriously unreliable and in a Yemeni context, I don’t think it’s going to do very well. So I’m not sure what their objectives are,” he told RT.

A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015. (Reuters / Khaled Abdullah)

A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015. (Reuters / Khaled Abdullah)

Meanwhile, Iranians are strongly supporting the Houthis, Zaidi Shia group, but it’s yet a question “whether they would support them militarily”.

“It’s not just the Houthi, but it’s the Houthi and the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is the one who commands the most of the military forces, the regular military forces. I think they have the upper hand militarily, and I’m not sure how much … support they would need from the Iranians,” he said.

“[Houthi] are a class, a group of people in the far North; their ancestor ruled Yemen for a long, long time, for a thousand years. During the regime of the republic they were discriminated against, and they fought the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, ironically because now they are allied with him. But at the time they fought his regime because they felt that it oppressed them. Because they were attacked by the Yemeni regime in a war in 2004-2010 they very much want to guarantee their security, they very much want to guarantee an upper military hand particularly in the North. They simply have done that. We know that now they are trying to set up a national regime. That is going to be more difficult for them. They do not have experience leading the country. We’ll have to see what they are going to do. Thus far they have been behaving quite badly: they’ve imprisoned journalists, they’ve attacked their political opponents in the beginning to behave exactly like the President that they overthrew in 2011.”