The US has directly entered the Yemen war, destroying three coastal radar sites operated by Houthi-rebel forces.
The missile attack this week, authorised by President Barack Obama, was the first direct military action and unambiguous support of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels. The Pentagon emphasised the confined nature of the strikes, and stressed the risk of civilian casualties was low, Reuters reported.
“These limited self-defence strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation,” a Pentagon spokesman said.
The strikes were launched in retaliation for two failed missile attacks by rebels against a US Navy destroyer. Defensive salvos were fired by the USS Mason, one of which reportedly intercepted an incoming missile, a US source said.
The American military had yet to directly engage with Houthis-rebels in Yemen’s conflict, escalating from the country’s two-year civil war. Until now, US involvement had been limited to refuelling support for the Saudi air force and selling weapons to the coalition.
The Houthi attack is believed to have been a response to a Saudi air strike that last week killed 100 mourners and injured more than 500 people attending a funeral in the rebel-held capital Sanaa. The attack caused outrage in Yemen and abroad. “We did not think they [the Saudis] would be so vile,” one of the survivors told the New York Times. Saudi Arabia has acknowledged responsibility for the massacre and said it will investigate the “regrettable” bombing.
The civil war erupted in 2014 after the rebel faction known as the Houthis, loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Salah, overran Sanaa and forced the government into exile. Since then Saudi Arabia and other supporters of current president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi have fought together against the Houthi. The conflict iescalated after peace talks broke down in August. Since then the opposing sides have increased their battle for control of Sanaa.
Mohammed al-Asaadi, a father of four in Sanaa, has detailed the daily struggle for survival in the beseiged Houthi territory.
“This is life in a war zone. Every day, you wake up to an unpleasant surprise: the death or injury of a friend or a family member. You witness the destruction of your childhood neighbourhood, school and the little shop where you once bought candy,” he told the New York Times.
The conflict has increased pressure on an already overburdened national healthcare system. The World Health Organisation has said shortages of funds have forced the closure of half the country’s health centres.
Thousands of families have fled the capital, taking refuge in regional camps where food and water are contaminated. WHO has reported 11 cases of cholera but says it has not yet spread beyond the capital.
Civilians have suffered the brunt of the conflict as the coalition bombards the country to weaken the Houthi-Salah alliance. As many as 10,000 people have been killed and UNICEF reports that almost 400,000 children are severely malnourished.
“The scale of suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict in Yemen is shocking. An estimated 21.2 million people, which constitutes nearly 80 per cent of the total population, need humanitarian assistance. Almost half of those in need are children,” UNICEF’s Yemen representative, Meritxell Relano, told CNN. – Sinead Fogarty