On Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration will designate Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization.
In the statement, Pompeo said the State Department will notify Congress of his intent to make the designation. He said he will also designate three Houthi leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
The UN and international aid organizations have been warning of the grave consequences the designation could have on the people living in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, which is approximately 70 percent of the country’s population. The terror designation would hobble international charities that deliver food to those areas.
Due to the US-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen that started in 2015, Yemenis are facing widespread disease, severe food shortages, and malnutrition. Any additional roadblocks for aid organizations will add to the suffering of Yemen’s civilian population.
The designation is part of the Trump administration’s broader “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. The US conflates the Houthis with Iran and labels them as an Iranian proxy, which is not the case. The Houthis are a Zaydi Shia group with a deep history in Yemen. Zaydi Shia Imams ruled the area of north Yemen the Houthis now control for over 1,000 years until 1962.
Iran openly supports the Houthis politically, but it’s not clear how much military support, if any, Tehran provides the Zaydi Shia group. Since the Saudis’ intervention in 2015, the US has helped enforce a blockade on Yemen, so sending weapons to the Houthis would be difficult.
Before backing the Saudis in Yemen, the US partnered with the Houthis in its fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen. A report from The Wall Street Journal in January 2015 (the Saudi intervention started in March 2015) explained how the US was cooperating with the Houthis.
The report reads: “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.”