Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that Washington will designate Yemen's Houthi movement, known as Ansarallah, as a foreign terrorist group.
"I also intend to designate three of Ansarallahs leaders, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists", Pomepo said in a statement.
Pompeo said that the Department of State will notify Congress of his intent, although they could still block the decision which could see the Houthis blacklisted a day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on 20 January. In November it was reported that US President Donald Trump was planning to add the Houthis to the US list of terrorist groups.
"The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping," he explained. Pompeo wanted to fast-track the move, according to one diplomatic source, as part of a "scorched-earth policy" as the administration prepares to make way for the incoming Democrat administration.
The Houthi movement plays an integral part in the de-facto government based in the capital Sanaa with most of the country's densely populated areas under its control and humanitarian groups have previously warned against labelling the movement as a terrorist organisation arguing that it will further hinder aid efforts amid the growing risk of famine caused by the nearly six-year war and blockade waged by the Saudi-led coalition.
A press release issued today by Save the Children warned against the designation and argued that it would "directly threaten the supply of lifesaving food, fuel and medicine".
"Humanitarian actors have warned for weeks that the consequences of this decision could be catastrophic for countless children and their families in Yemen who are barely surviving," said Janti Soeripto, the organisation's president and CEO.
The Secretary of State acknowledged these concerns in the press statement, stressing: "We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen."
A number of former US diplomats and State Department officials have also expressed reservations of the move which would be "deeply damaging" to US national security. In a letter sent yesterday to Pompeo, 20 former senior officials -including every living former US ambassador to Yemen – called on the Trump administration to "abandon plans" which could undermine the "credibility of U.S. counterterrorism programs and policies."
"To be clear, we hold no sympathy for the Houthi movement, nor are we condoning its actions," wrote the signatories.
"That said, we do not believe that the Houthi movement meets the definition of a Foreign Terrorist Organization nor do we believe that the designation will advance U.S. national security interests."