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After 9 years of war, control of Yemen remains divided among 3 sides

April 12, 2023 at 4:33 pm

A fighter loyal to Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) holds the separatist flag in the southern Abyan province on May 18, 2020 [NABIL HASAN/AFP via Getty Images]

After nearly nine years of war in Yemen, control of the country’s territory stands divided among three major players: The internationally recognised government, Houthi rebels and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC).

As optimism is on the rise for restoring peace in the war-torn country following talks in the capital, Sana’a, the Saudi-backed government is estimated to control about 55 per cent of Yemen, while the Houthis hold about 25 per cent and the STC about 20 per cent, totalling an approximate 550,000 square kilometres (about 212,000 sq miles).

Despite covering just a quarter of the country’s land, Iran-aligned rebel-held areas include the vast majority of Yemen’s northern population centres, where roughly half of the nation’s 32 million people live.

On the other hand, the Saudi-backed government controls the country’s oil and gas fields in the southern provinces of Marib and Hadhramaut further east, while the STC, supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), holds the southern economic capital of Yemen, Aden.

READ: Yemeni gov’t optimistic about restoring peace in war-torn country

Vital institutions are also located in the capital, held by the Houthis, including international organisations like the UN country headquarters and telecommunications and internet companies.

Sana’a also hosted Omani-mediated talks over the weekend between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, following a thaw in relations between Riyadh and Tehran last month.

Yemen’s Information Minister, Moammar Al-Eryani on Monday hailed the atmosphere in the country “more favourable than any time before to restore peace in Yemen”.

Complete governmental control

The internationally recognised government has the full control of several provinces. Most notably, the largest province in terms of area, Hadhramaut.

Hadhramaut contains several important archaeological, coastal and tourist cities, such as Mukalla, Seiyun, Shibam, Tarim and Al-Shihr. It is also rich in oil and is a centre of commercial activity.

The government also controls the easternmost province Al Mahrah, which is also the second-largest in terms of area, on the border with Oman.

Saudi forces are also deployed in Al Mahrah. The Al Ghaydah International Airport and ports of Nishtun and Ash Shihr are also located in the province.

Partial governmental control

Control in central Marib, where the majority of Yemen’s oil- and gas-rich areas are found, is contested mostly between the government and the Houthis.

Government reports indicate that the provincial capital, also called Marib, hosts more than 2 million out of 4.5 million displaced people in the country.

Since the beginning of February 2021, the Houthis have intensified their attacks on the city, which hosts the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.

The government also controls most of Lahij, while Houthis also hold parts of the south-western province.

The situation is similar in the neighbouring provinces of Dhale and Taiz, where pro-government forces control most districts.

Complete Houthi control

Houthi rebels hold several regions in northern Yemen, most notably the capital, Sana’a, which was captured by the group in September 2014, two months after taking over neighbouring Amran.

READ: Yemen: Houthis ‘optimistic’ about Oman’s efforts for peace

Sana’a is the most important city in Yemen, as it is home to the most crucial state institutions, the telecommunications sector, and many companies and factories that generate revenue for the Houthis.

The rebels also control the entirety of the Dhamar, Al Bayda, Ibb, Raymah, Al Mahwit and Amran provinces.

Partial Houthi control

Several provinces are mostly controlled by the Houthis, including the strategic coastal Al-Hudaydah in the west, home to one of Yemen’s most important ports, through which about 70 per cent of the country’s imports and foreign aid pass.

Government forces control some of the province’s districts, such as Al Khawkhah and Hays.

Complete STC control

Established in 2017, the UAE-backed STC holds all of Aden province, the temporary capital of the internationally recognised government.

Aden has been controlled by the STC, which wants southern Yemen to secede from the north since August 2019, following confrontations with government forces.

The province is the second-most important in Yemen after Sana’a, as it was considered the economic capital of the country before the war broke out in 2014.

Since June 2020, the STC has also controlled the strategic island province of Socotra, overlooking the Indian Ocean south-east of mainland Yemen. It is also the largest Arab island in the world.

The STC controls Shabwah province, which contains the Balhaf natural gas liquefaction plant, critical to Yemen’s economy and its LNG exports.

Partial STC control

The STC shares control of Abyan, Dhale, and Lahij Governorates with the government.

TIMELINE: Yemen slide into political crisis and war

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