The Trump administration is planning to designate Yemen’s Houthis as a terrorist organization before January 20th, diplomatic sources told Foreign Policy.
According to the sources, the UN and international aid organizations have been trying to convince the US not to designate the Houthis as a terror group, as the move could have a severe impact on the civilian population of Yemen.
A group of international charities is preparing a statement comparing the potential impact to the famine in Somalia that took place after the US designated al-Shabab as a terror group in 2008.
The US-backed Saudi-led war against the Houthis has led to widespread malnutrition, food shortages, and mass starvation in Yemen. Since 2015, the coalition has regularly targeted civilian infrastructure, including farms, markets, and fishing boats. These brutal tactics have left most of Yemen’s population reliant on aid.
If the Trump administration designates the Houthis as a terror group, it will hamper aid organizations’ efforts to deliver aid to Houthi-controlled areas, which is where most Yemenis live.
Joe Biden has said he plans to end US support for the war in Yemen. If the Houthis are designated as a terror group, it will make ending the war more complicated, and reversing a terror designation could take years.
The move is also seen as a part of the Trump administration’s broader campaign against Iran. According to reports, the US is planning a flood of sanctions on Iran before Biden’s inauguration on January 20th. The US is coordinating with Gulf countries and Israel to ramp up the pressure on Iran in the coming weeks.
The Houthis are painted as an Iranian proxy by the US and most media outlets. But the Houthis are a Zaydi Shia group with deep roots in Yemen. Zaydi Shia Imams ruled the areas of north Yemen that the Houthis now control for over 1,000 years until 1962.
The Houthis were a partner with the US in Washington’s fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen right before Saudi Arabia intervened in the country. A report from The Wall Street Journal from January 2015 (the Saudi war on the Houthis started in March 2015) explained how the US was cooperating with the Zaydi Shia group.
“The US has formed ties with Houthi rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, White House officials and rebel commanders said, in the clearest indication of a shift in the US approach there as it seeks to maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda,” the report reads.