These cranes in Hudaydah Port have been out of service since mid-2015, with little hope of repair anytime soon. The crane operating units were hit by precision airstrikes in 2015. (Photo by Giles Clarke, UN OCHA / Getty Images)

Attack on Yemen Port Shows U.S.-Backed Coalition Willing To Use Starvation as a Weapon

By attacking Hudaydah, the Saudi-led coalition is cutting off another vital lifeline.

BY Shireen Al-Adeimi

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"If need be, we will leave the city toward any direction that is safe."

The three-year-long, U.S.-supported war on Yemen has already been devastating to Yemen’s 28 million residents. Today, it has entered a new phase—one that is described by the United Nations and U.S. lawmakers as “catastrophic.” Despite extensive military support from other Arab and Western allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have failed to reinstate President Hadi to power, and have now launched a deadly attack on Yemen’s port city of Hudayda.

The city of 600,000 people on Yemen’s west coast is one of two points of entry for commercial shipping (now blocked by the Saudi-led coalition) and humanitarian aid. Unlike the port of Aden, which has been under Saudi and UAE control since 2015, Houthi-controlled Hudaydah supplies over 70 percent of food and aid entering the country, and is therefore accurately described as Yemen’s lifeline.

The battle for Hudaydah is projected to be prolonged, and the United Nations warned that it could result in the loss of 250,000 lives. Additionally, any disruption to aid flow from the port of Hudaydah will leave 22 million Yemenis—80 percent of the population—without the food and humanitarian aid upon which they rely.

On Monday, all UN staff were withdrawn from the city, signaling that the UN has failed to dissuade the Saudi and Emirati coalition from attacking. In turn, the UAE provided an ultimatum to Yemen’s Houthis, warning them to leave the city within a 48-hour deadline that passed on Tuesday evening. The United States has been part of the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition attacking Yemen since the beginning, and has provided logistical support and training to Saudi forces, as well as mid-air refueling to Saudi and UAE jets. Additionally, the United States has further entrenched itself in this unauthorized war by deploying U.S. Special Forces to fight Yemen’s Houthis at the Saudi-Yemen border.

U.S. involvement in Yemen, however, has not gone unchallenged. In a last-minute effort to stop the attack on Hudaydah, a bipartisan letter from U.S. Representatives to Defense Secretary James Mattis urged him to “use all available means to avert a catastrophic military assault” on Hudaydah and to “immediately disclose the full extent of the U.S. military role in the Saudi-led war against Yemen’s Houthis.” Their calls, however, have gone unanswered.

The deadline having expired, U.S.-supported Saudi and UAE forces—comprised of Yemeni, Sudanese, American, Latin American, Blackwater and other mercenaries—began their offensive to capture Hudadyah. In other words, the Coalition is deliberately using starvation as a weapon, a war crime under international humanitarian law. The United States, in turn, has responded by providing airstrike targets to Saudi and UAE forces, further implicating itself in apparent war crimes perpetuated against war-torn Yemen.

In These Times spoke to several Hudaydah residents about daily life in their city, as well as what they expect to take place in the coming days and weeks. Noor, a school principal, says the biggest problem is the exorbitant prices. Government employees have not been receiving salaries, and with the upcoming Eid holiday this Friday, she wonders, “How will the children be happy?” Still, life goes on, and both she and her daughters have not stopped working, shopping and engaging in other social activities. These days, she says everyone is talking about the impending attack on their city, “but we haven’t seen anything. We heard three explosions the other day, but they seemed far. We hear that the Coalition is already in the airport and the sea port – that they will surround us from both directions – but they are exaggerating. So far, we haven’t seen anything.” 

Nonetheless, she and her family are prepared to leave the city. “Fear is present, but we hope and pray that God will protect us,” she says. “Still, we have prepared a small bag and the cars are ready to go in case we need to leave on a moment’s notice. If need be, we will leave the city toward any direction that is safe.”

Fareeda, a long-time resident of Hudaydah, says she still doesn’t understand “what has gone wrong in this simple country which is resided by simple people.” If the Saudis and Americans “have a problem with Iran,” she says, they should directly face Iran rather than destroy Yemen with impunity. “No country can object or stop them.” As for her plans to leave, she responds rhetorically: “If anyone asks you to vacate and leave your house, will you leave?” 

Duaa, who works in data entry, says she is “afraid all the time.” She fears the constant sound of airplanes that signal incoming bombardments, as well as the latest news reports of the looming battle for her city. Life in Hudaydah’s notoriously hot, desert climate is difficult without electricity and easy access to water. Duaa doesn’t know what to expect in the coming days but worries about the safety of all residents. Her worry is exacerbated by the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the city earlier this week. “We will be doomed from the war and there will not be any external aid,” she says. Given her fears and these dire circumstances, Duaa plans on leaving the city with her family, but only if the situation intensifies. 

Sedki, a data analyst, hopes for a peaceful outcome but views the UN’s exit from the city as a “dangerous indicator” and is therefore planning to leave to with his family to a safer place, Sana’a. Unlike Sedki, however, Safa remains optimistic. She does not expect the situation to worsen, and is therefore planning on staying in the city. “I believe that nothing will happen so [it’s] better to stay home,” she says. 

These responses indicate a mixture of fear that the worst will transpire, and faith that things will work out. Having endured three years of brutal war that has not only claimed tens of thousands of lives to violence, but also at least 113,000 child deaths due to malnutrition and preventable diseases such as cholera, these residents are not rushing to leave their homes. Instead, they are taking time to assess whether news reports are accurate, and whether it is in fact safe to leave the city.

Shireen Al-Adeimi is an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. Having lived through two civil wars in her country of birth, Yemen, she has played an active role in raising awareness about the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led war on Yemen since 2015. Through her work, she aims to encourage political action among fellow Americans to bring about an end to U.S. intervention in Yemen.

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