Civil war, humanitarian crisis escalates after former Yemen president killed, signals challenges for US

After Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed at the hands of Houthi rebels, experts in the region say his death could ignite an “explosion” of unrest in the already troubled Gulf nation that has been wracked by civil war.

Yemen, which has previously been vital to U.S. interests in the region, is also experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has brought nearly seven million to the brink of starvation.

One factor that will now work against Houthi leadership in coming days is the very public manner in which Saleh was killed when he tried to escape from the house in which he had barricaded himself.

“Many people are out for blood now,” Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations told ABC News. “The fact that he was killed in such a humiliating manner has really aroused anger in a lot of people.”

Saleh was killed two days after he backed out of an alliance with the Iran-backed Houthis, changing sides to embrace Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s MENA state news agency reported that the head of The Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, on Tuesday called the Houthi movement a “terrorist organization” and is demanding the international community “rid the Yemeni people of this nightmare.”

Handout/AFP/Getty Images
An image grab taken from a video released by Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Dec. 4, 2017, reportedly shows the body of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh being transported at an undisclosed location in Yemen.
Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters
Smoke rises from areas where Houthi fighters clashed with forces loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed, in Sanaa, Yemen Dec. 4, 2017.

Yemen is vital to U.S. interests

The U.S. military has been providing support to the Saudis throughout their campaign, providing intelligence and even re-fueling Saudi jets mid-air between bombing raids. President Donald Trump has increased this assistance in the name of keeping Yemen secure and denying operating space to Islamic fundamentalists.

Yemen is home to the most dangerous branch of Al Qaeda — Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP). The U.S. conducts drone strikes in Yemen against the group regularly and, in 2012, the CIA foiled an AQAP plan to bomb a U.S. bound airplane.

Saleh was forced to resign as ruler of Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011. He remained in the country, however, and continued to wield power from behind the scenes. In 2014, his forces…

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