HOUTHI REBELS ATTACK AIRBASE, REVEALING FRACTURES IN FOREIGN-LED NATION-BUILDING
By Alex Pollock
At least 30 pro-government fighters have been killed in an attack on an airbase in southern Yemen, security and medical sources say. A spokesman for Yemeni southern forces said al-Anad airbase was targeted with armed drones and missiles. He blamed the Iran-aligned rebel Houthi movement, which is fighting a war against the Saudi-backed government. The Houthis have not yet commented on the reports, but they have attacked the same airbase in the past. Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in 2015, when the Houthis seized control of large parts of the country and a Saudi-led coalition launched an operation to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s rule. The fighting has reportedly left more than 130,000 people dead and triggered what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 12 million people reliant on food aid and half of children under five facing malnutrition. (BBC)
The most recent attack on al-Anad airbase resulted in the deaths of more than 30 soldiers, while another 60 were injured, as the Houthi militia group continues to battle the Saudi-backed government for control of the country. Al-Anad airbase is located in one of the few remaining areas under government control. Several groups have been fighting for control of Yemen since the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition to dispel the Houthi movement. The Houthis are a Shiite group that originated in the northern region of Yemen. After failed attempts in the past to garner more territory by military force, in 2015 the group relaunched an offensive and was able to take control of the nation’s capital Sana’a. Houthi rebels gained control of the capital in just a matter of days, garnering headlines that are not too dissimilar to those currently circulating about the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan. The last six years of war in Yemen have created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis as millions of people have been caught in the middle of a religious, social, and political war. Recent peace-making efforts, between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, have failed, and the US has withdrawn its offensive support for the coalition. Some media have reported that the withdrawal of Western support, along with a potential peace deal that would relieve Saudi Arabia of its involvement, could lead to an easy victory for the Houthis. Like the current situation in Afghanistan, the Yemeni people have been so weakened by years of war that there would be little to no resistance against a Houthi offensive if large foreign powers withdraw.
The foreign-led model of nation-building that saw the recent fall of the Western-backed Afghan government is currently taking place in other countries, like Yemen and Somalia. The foreign-led nation-building model is characterised by a larger power – such as the US or Saudi Arabia – taking the military initiative in another country to dispel rebel or militant groups, in the hopes of training leaders and creating a more democratic (equitable) government system. While this method may result in temporary peace and can provide improvement in economic, social, and political systems, it often leaves the country in a vulnerable state if, and when, the foreign power withdraws. Many commentators expect a similar fate for both Yemen and Somalia to that of Afghanistan if the current model of nation-building is not amended.
Somalia: In Somalia, the African Union (AU) launched an initiative, in partnership with the United Nations, to defeat the al-Qaeda linked group al-Shabaab. For the past 14 years, the AU has worked with Western support and regional troops from several other African nations, to combat extremism in Somalia; however, little lasting progress has been made. The initiative has spent around $900 million each year in anti-extremism efforts, yet the Somali government remains weak and fractured. In a piece for the Financial Times, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said that foreign involvement and military forces fighting rebel groups in Africa may temporarily diminish extremist activity, but it is ultimately not enough to transform societies. Patrick Gathara, a consultant for Al Jazeera, argues that the critical piece missing from operations in Afghanistan and Somalia is the presence of a legitimate government that is created by free and fair elections. The fragile governments in these countries are upheld by foreign forces for a time but are not adequately equipped with resources and anti-corruption procedures to continue operating when the foreign support is withdrawn.
Yemen: The same can be said about Yemen. The political pieces in Yemen continue to shift as more and more groups (including various tribes) jockey for power. The Houthis may be the most organised group fighting for control of the country, against the internationally recognised government, but it is not the only one. There have been several fractures among the warring parties, including when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began supporting the Southern Transitional Council after withdrawing its support for the Saudi-backed government. Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh worked alongside the Houthis for a short time after being ousted from power and being replaced by current president Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2012, however, Saleh later broke his alliance with the Houthis and recommitted to the government coalition. He was killed by a Houthi sniper in 2017, demonstrating the complex relationships between parties in Yemen. Years of civil war has done little to create any stability within the Yemeni political system. Most Yemenis are Sunni Muslims and are not in favour of a Shiite Houthi government.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen are ranked second, third, and seventh, respectively, on the 2021 Open Doors World Watch List for persecution, with Christian populations under 0.5% (the Joshua Project), and all have been battling years of war on social, political, and religious fronts. Christians in these nations have lived and operated in very spiritually dark places. The Houthis in Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia all threaten to further complicate the living conditions of Christians in these nations. Foreign-led nation-building has provided pockets of relief for some believers in these countries, yet they are all once again facing the threat of increased scrutiny from Islamic extremist groups as foreign intervention falters. While militaries participate in physical warfare in these nations, we are reminded that the real battle is “not against flesh and blood, but the forces of evil within the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). So, even though the global body of Christ cannot fight alongside our brothers and sisters in these earthly battles they are facing, we can fight with them in the heavenly realms, through prayer and intercession.
The Church can also make a difference to these nations by reaching out to those within their proximity. With thousands of Afghans currently being evacuated and sent to more “Christian-friendly” nations, and groups of Yemenis and Somalian refugees living outside of Yemen and Somalia, Christians in these nations can reach these individuals with the Gospel, while encouraging and building up believers in these diaspora communities, to ultimately carry the gospel back to their home countries. If there is one thing the Church can learn from recent events in Afghanistan, it is that if the Christian presence is to grow in these ‘closed nations,’ we cannot rely solely on foreign workers and missionaries. The Church needs to take advantage of the opportunity to train, equip, disciple, and provide ongoing support to the local population, including the diaspora, who can then relate the gospel to their home culture more effectively.
Even though the earthly circumstances in these nations can seem hopeless as wars drag on, and many are facing the threat of violence and death, there is hope in the promise that those who persevere in the hope of Christ will receive eternal victory as seen in Revelation 7:14-17: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst; the sun will no longer strike them, nor will any scorching heat. For the Lamb who is at the centre of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of the waters of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Please join us in prayer:
- For the effective training of governments currently facing political, social, and religious turmoil, that lasting peace may be established
- For the global Church not to grow weary in praying and interceding for believers in ‘closed nations’ and for Christians to reach out to those in diaspora communities around them
- For those who are persecuting Christians to have a ‘Damascus Road’ experience and find salvation in Jesus Christ
Image: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah