US Considers Redesignating Yemen’s Houthis as ‘Terrorists’

Biden reversed the designation made by Trump because it was a death sentence for aid-reliant Yemenis living in Houthi-controlled areas

The White House has said it’s considering redesignating Yemen’s Houthis as “terrorists” after the Houthis seized an Israeli-linked vessel in the Red Sea in response to the Israeli onslaught in Gaza.

“In light of this, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations and we will be considering other options as well with our allies and partners as well,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby condemned the ship seizure as “piracy of a ship in international waters.” However, the US frequently seizes ships in the name of sanctions enforcement and has repeatedly stolen Iranian gas and oil shipments in recent years.

The Trump administration designated the Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, as a terrorist organization in a last-minute move in January 2021 despite warnings from aid groups that it would doom food-deprived Yemenis living in Houthi-controlled areas, which includes Yemen’s capital Sanaa and most of what used to be the country of North Yemen.

The terrorist designation essentially criminalizes aid deliveries by making anyone who does business with the Houthi government subject to US sanctions. After the designation was implemented, the UN warned it would cause a famine on a scale not seen in 40 years. Due to the pressure from aid groups, President Biden reversed the designation in February 2021.

According to the State Department, about 70-80% of Yemen’s population live in Houthi-controlled areas. The situation is so dire for them due to the US-backed Saudi-led war and blockade on Yemen that started in 2015. The people of Yemen have had some relief as a ceasefire reached in April 2022 has held relatively well, and the blockade has been eased somewhat. But according to the UN, about two-thirds of the population is still reliant on aid.

Before the US backed the Saudi-UAE coalition in 2015, the Houthis were actually a partner of the US in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 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.”

After entering the war against the Houthis, the US was then on the same side as al-Qaeda. A report from The Associated Press in 2018 found the US-backed coalition supported militias that “actively recruit al-Qaeda militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters.”

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.