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Hani Mohammed
Tomahawk missiles

Explainer: What's happening in Yemen right now?

The United States backs a Saudi-led coalition that is fighting the rebels loyal to the former Yemeni president.

IN THE PAST week, the international media focus has been on Syria’s crumbling city of Aleppo, the destruction left behind in Haiti, and more recently the fight for Iraq’s Mosul.

In the wake of the worldwide destruction, little attention has been paid to what is going on in Yemen, where a civil war has been going on between President Hadi’s government forces and Huthi rebels.

Britain and the US have backed government forces in the siege, and are helping Hadi hold his position as leader of the country.

But over the past week, claims were made that the US bombed Yemen – their first bombing in the campaign since they entered the conflict in 2015.

So what exactly is going on?

It started last week when the US Navy said two missiles were fired at their ships from a territory in Yemen controlled by the Huthi rebels. They responded by firing at the rebels in America’s first direct attack in the civil war.

Here’s a quick timeline of what happened:

Sunday 9 October

Two missiles were fired from a rebel-held territory in Yemen and fell short of the USS Mason, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Ponce, an amphibious warfare ship based in the Red Sea.

The missiles, which were fired within an hour of each other, fell short of their targets and fell into the sea.

The incident came just days after a warship from the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, was hit by rocket fire in the Red Sea.

The Pentagon has said it was willing to retaliate for the attacks.

Tuesday 11 October 

Two days after the attack, the United States threatened to retaliate for the missile attack in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen.

“Counterstrike, retaliatory strike: I can tell you that those things are things that we are looking at,” said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a defence department spokesman.

“We want very much to get to the bottom of what happened,” said Davis. “We’re going to find out who did this and we will take action accordingly.”

“We will make sure that anybody who interferes with freedom of navigation and puts US Navy ship at risk understands they do so at their own peril,” he said.

Mideast Yemen Hani Mohammed Hani Mohammed

Thursday 13 October 

The US military directly targeted Yemen’s Huthi rebels for the first time – authorised by President Obama.

The US Navy launched Tomahawk missiles at three coastal radar sites, destroying targets associated with missile attacks on US ships this week while warning that it would not tolerate similar actions in the future.

A defence official told the Washington Post that the radar sites were in remote areas where there was little risk of civilian casualties, but declined to say how many Tomahawks were used.

“Initial assessments show the sites were destroyed,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

Yemeni rebels denied that they had targeted a US destroyer in the Red Sea which had prompted the missile strikes.

“Those claims are baseless,” the rebel-controlled Saba news agency quoted a military official allied with the rebels as saying.

“The (rebel-allied) army and the Popular Committees (militia) have nothing to do with this action,” the official added.

Sunday 15 October

Three US warships in the Red Sea detected what may have been missiles fired at them, but none hit, the US military said, amid rising tensions with Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

US officials initially said that surface-to-surface missiles had been fired at the USS Mason, USS Nitze and USS Ponce off the coast of Yemen starting around 19.30 GMT, though it was unclear how many.

They later backtracked, saying that the ships detected what may have been missiles.

“A US Strike Group transiting international waters in the Red Sea detected possible inbound missile threats and deployed appropriate defensive measures,” a US defence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Why are the US near Yemen?

The United States is providing logistical support to a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the rebels since last year, but last Thursday’s bombing marked the first time America has taken direct action against the Huthis.

The US military provides intelligence and refuelling for coalition aircraft. It also supplies advanced munitions and logistics support to the effort, and is Saudi Arabia’s biggest arms supplier.

The US campaign has faced increasing international criticism over civilian deaths, with critics calling on Washington to end its support for the coalition.

After a coalition air strike on a funeral in Sanaa on Saturday killed more than 140 people, the US administration announced an “immediate review” of its cooperation.

The conflict has killed more than 6,700 people – almost two-thirds of them civilians – and displaced at least three million since the coalition launched military operations, according to the United Nations.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

- © AFP, 2016

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