The resignation of Yemen’s executive branch in response to al Houthi actions increases the risk of state fragmentation. The al Houthis control the capital, Sana’a, and key state infrastructure, but opposition factions in Taiz, Aden, and elsewhere reject al Houthi leadership.
The executive branch of Yemen’s government resigned on January 22. Yemen’s prime minister and cabinet submitted their resignations, citing the recent developments as cause. President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi followed suit, but the al Houthis rejected his resignation claiming it needs parliamentary approval. Yemen’s parliament will hold that vote in an extraordinary session on January 26. If Hadi’s resignation is accepted, the head of parliament, a loyalist of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, will become president. The al Houthi leadership is reportedly trying to form a council to govern.
Southern governorates refuse to recognize Sana’a government’s authority. Protests in southern governorates immediately broke out following news of President Hadi’s resignation. Some secessionists have called for the South to push for independence. Security officials in Aden, Lahij, Abyan, and Dhaleh told soldiers and employees to ignore any instructions coming from Sana’a. Shabwah made a similar announcement. Southern movement gunmen have reportedly begun erecting checkpoints along the former border of North-South Yemen.
Clashes between al Houthis and tribesmen in Ma’rib, directly east of Sana’a, broke out on January 22. Al Houthi militants attempted to seize the 7th Armored Brigade Base in Sirwah, Ma’rib. The al Houthis have fighters stationed in eastern Ma’rib in order to protect oil infrastructure. Al Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi stipulated in his January 20 address that it is an al Houthi priority to secure infrastructure in Ma’rib.
The Yemeni military is on high alert for increased al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) activity. AQAP took advantage of political paralysis and a security vacuum in 2011 to expand in south Yemen. Yemeni military units remain deployed against AQAP currently. Security forces in Hadramawt reportedly closed the governorate’s airport and main seaport of al Mukalla.
The U.S. has undertaken a number of precautions in case a full embassy evacuation is needed. The U.S. Navy sent two warships carrying to Yemen’s Red Sea Coast on January 22. The U.S. State Department further reduced its staff at the embassy in Sana’a but will remain open for now. White House spokesman Josh Earnest briefed that the U.S. administration “remains committed to pursuing a counterterrorism strategy against AQAP” and that “we certainly want to continue our work” with the Yemeni government.
The collapse of the Yemeni government puts the current U.S. counterterrorism strategy into question. AQAP will most likely use current unrest as an opportunity to expand in Yemen’s southern and eastern governorates and carry out attacks on Yemeni military and al Houthi targets.