The UN-Mediated Truce in Yemen
Impacts of the First Two Months
14 June 2022
The period from 2 April to 2 June 2022 saw the implementation in Yemen of a two-month UN-mediated truce across the country that mandated a nationwide cessation of hostilities. It was the first time that conflict parties1At the time, conflict parties were represented by Houthi-affiliated authorities on one side, and Hadi-affiliated authorities on the other along with the Saudi-led coalition. On 7 April, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi delegated his executive powers to a Political Leadership Council regrouping the various anti-Houthi factions. agreed to such a cessation of hostilities since the Kuwait peace talks in April 2016 (for more on the developments around the truce and its stakeholders, see ACLED’s Yemen Truce Monitor). Despite a sharp increase in violence the week prior to the truce, the agreement has largely been considered a success, as acknowledged by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 25 May 2022). Likewise, humanitarian organizations working across Yemen have applauded the humanitarian impacts of the truce, including improved access to aid for Yemenis (ReliefWeb, 31 May 2022). On 2 June, Grundberg announced that the parties had agreed to renew the truce for a further two months, extending it until 2 August (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 2 June 2022). This report explores key developments in Yemen during the first two months of the truce.2See ACLED’s Methodology and Coding Decisions around the Yemen Civil War for details on how actors are recorded, sources, and other specificities of the Yemen dataset.
- Both Saudi-led coalition airstrikes from fighter jets in Yemen and Houthi drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia stopped entirely. In the year leading up to the truce, ACLED records an average of more than 40 coalition airstrike events per week in Yemen,3 This figure does take into account Saudi-led coalition drone strikes and strikes from helicopters. and an average of four Houthi drone and missile attacks per week in Saudi Arabia.4Note that one airstrike event can include several airstrikes and that the number of airstrikes can greatly vary from one event to another. Similarly, one drone or missile attack can include several drones or missiles. As ACLED is an event-based dataset, ACLED records events rather than the number of ammunition or other weapons used. This ensures consistency in the data, especially given the overall rare reporting on exact counts.
- Shelling across the main frontlines increased significantly, becoming the main form of political violence in Yemen. During the first two months of the truce, shelling, artillery, and missile attack events accounted for 55% of all political violence events, compared to 19% in the two months preceding the truce.
- While armed clashes between conflict parties remained at relatively high levels in April and May 2022, their lethality decreased considerably. The lethality of armed clashes was five times lower during the first two months of the truce than during the two months prior.
- April and May 2022 saw the lowest levels of reported fatalities since January 2015, but civilians suffered disproportionately from political violence. Although reported fatalities from civilian targeting decreased by more than 50% from March to April, their share of the total reported fatalities increased by more than 50%.
Impact of the Truce on Political Violence Patterns
Decreased Aerial Attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia
The most salient change in political violence patterns induced by the truce is the drastic decrease in air and drone strike events. Over the first two months of the truce, air and drone strike events decreased by 78% compared to the two months prior (see map below) and by 61% compared to the same period last year.5The initial period of the truce lasted 62 days from 2 April to 2 June. In order to compare with an equal time period, this report treats the two months prior to the truce as the 62 days directly preceding the truce, 30 January to 1 April. This decrease is the direct result of the complete cessation of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes from fighter jets. Before April 2022, Yemen had not seen a single week without a coalition airstrike since March 2015.6ACLED’s Yemen data are collected in partnership with the Yemen Data Project, which is tracking air raids. Subscribe for their weekly updates. However, Houthi forces continue to report weekly drone strikes from the coalition, mainly in the frontline areas of Ad Dali, Hodeidah, and Taizz governorates. Targeting of the northern governorates of Al Jawf, Amanat al Asimah, Hajjah, Marib, and Sadah has nearly stopped entirely (see map below). In the early days of the truce, Houthi forces also reported coalition strikes from Apache helicopters (Yemen News Agency, 4 April 2022).
Additionally, Houthi forces have conducted drone strikes throughout the truce, including a strike on 4 May that targeted the security administration of the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG)7With the Political Leadership Council (PLC) taking part in the renewal of the UN-mediated truce, it is confirmed that PLC is now in power in Yemen instead of former President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. ACLED will now be referring to the ‘Internationally Recognized Government’ where it used to refer to the ‘Hadi government’. inside Taizz city and injured a number of civilians.
Coinciding with the cessation of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes from fighter jets, Houthi forces have also stopped drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia since 26 March. It is the first time a halt in Houthi activity in Saudi Arabia this long has been recorded since the first Houthi cross-border attacks in May 2015. In the year leading up to the truce, ACLED records an average of four Houthi drone and missile attacks per week in Saudi Arabia.
Ongoing Shelling and Armed Clashes
While air and drone strike events decreased, the truce has seen a significant increase in shelling, artillery, and missile attack events, which increased by 160% compared to the two months prior and by 106% compared to the same period last year. These events account for the majority of political violence — 55% — during the first two months of the truce, having only accounted for 19% of total political violence in the two months before the truce. Since the start of the truce, conflict parties have alleged shelling by their opponents in daily violations reports (see ACLED’s Yemen Truce Monitor for more on reported truce violations). During this time, most shelling events took place in the governorates of Hajjah, Hodeidah, Marib, and Taizz, where the main frontlines are located,8 For more on the current positions of frontlines, see ACLED’s State of Yemen infographic series. as well as in Sadah governorate, where shelling by IRG forces has increased (see map below).
ACLED also records high levels of armed clash events between Houthi and anti-Houthi forces during the first two months of the truce. However, the nature of these events seems to have changed significantly. A fivefold decrease in lethality (explored in further detail in the following section), when compared to the two months prior, likely indicates not only a lower intensity of clashes but also that unidirectional gunfire, such as “sniper operations” (2 December News, 17 April 2022), is making up an increasingly large percentage of events. During the first two months of the truce, most armed clash events between warring parties took place in Hodeidah, Marib, and Taizz governorates (see map above).9The Yemen Truce Monitor tracks the activity of parties involved in the truce. It does not track events that are the result of infighting between different actors from the same side of the conflict as violations of the truce.
Throughout the first two months of the truce, there were also numerous reports of Houthi forces sending reinforcements to their positions in Marib and Taizz governorates (Yemeni Army, 14 April 2022; Yemeni Army, 23 May 2022), indicating that renewed large-scale hostilities remain a possibility into the future.
Impact of the Truce on Fatalities
During its first two months, the truce had a significant impact on the war’s death toll. ACLED records 400 total reported fatalities over the first two months of the truce, a decrease of 85% compared to the two months prior and a decrease of 87% compared to the same period last year. In fact, April and May 2022 saw the lowest levels of total reported fatalities since the start of ACLED’s Yemen coverage in January 2015 (see graph below). Throughout these two months, the weekly total fatality counts were consistently the lowest since March 2015.
Notably, reported fatalities have also continued to decrease during the truce. While armed clash events between Houthi and anti-Houthi forces remained at similar levels between the first and the second month of the truce, the lethality of these clashes fell, with an estimated 125 fatalities in the first 31 days compared to 53 in the second 31 days. This decreased lethality is an encouraging development as the truce extension begins.
Civilians Suffer Disproportionately During the Truce
Of the 400 total fatalities reported during the initial truce period, 24% resulted from civilian targeting. This is considerably higher compared to 2021 and the rest of 2022 (see graph below). Although the truce has resulted in a significant overall decrease in civilian fatalities – more than 50% from March to April 2022 – civilians have suffered disproportionately from the violence that has continued.
Landmine explosions can partially explain this disproportionately high level of civilian fatalities during the truce period. In April 2022, remote explosive, landmine, and IED events were responsible for 34% of all reported civilian fatalities, the highest this percentage has been since the start of ACLED’s Yemen coverage in January 2015. Unless significant clearance work is conducted across Yemen, landmine incidents and subsequent fatalities are likely to increase in any post-conflict scenario as civilians gain access to former battlefields. For instance, there were 18 remote explosive, landmine, and IED events in Hodeidah governorate in the four weeks that followed the complete reshuffling of frontlines in November 2021, compared to just three events in the four weeks prior. This trend continues today, with only three weeks in which no remote explosive, landmine, and IED events were recorded in Hodeidah between mid-November 2021 and May 2022.
Other Emerging Trends During the Truce
The first two months of the truce also saw a number of trends emerge that fall outside of the conflict between the Houthis and the IRG. These include an increase in reported Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) activity, with reports of deployments in several districts of Abyan and Shabwah governorates (Khabar News Agency, 15 April 2022).10Districts with reported deployments in Abyan are Al Mahfad, Al Wadea, Lawdar, and Mudiyah (Al Masdar, 14 April 2022); and districts in Shabwah are Mayfaa and Merkhah As Sufla (Twitter @aalnaasi, 18 April 2022; Twitter @aalnaasi, 12 April 2022). In Hadramawt governorate, AQAP orchestrated a jailbreak operation from Sayun central prison (Twitter @Dr_E_Kendall, 28 April 2022), which was followed by sightings of a car driving around Al Mukalla city with the AQAP logo on it (Al Khabar Al Yemeni, 9 May 2022). Some local sources also reported the presence of AQAP fighters in Harib district of Marib governorate (Twitter @aalnaasi, 18 May 2022).
It is unclear whether these deployments will lead to new strings of attacks. However, forces affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) claim to have fought with AQAP militants on several occasions, despite silence on these incidents from the official AQAP wires. These STC claims include the killing of a seven-member AQAP group in Ad Dali governorate on 6 May and the killing of an AQAP leader in Ataq city, the capital of Shabwah governorate, on 11 May. STC-affiliated forces also claimed to have arrested AQAP militants planning to carry out attacks in Aden city in April and May (South24, 12 April 2022; South24, 19 May 2022). Throughout that same period, official AQAP wires claimed three operations: the Sayun jailbreak and two IED attacks on Houthi forces in Al Bayda governorate.
Tensions also seem to be growing between factions of the Political Leadership Council (PLC). Forces affiliated with the STC and Tareq Saleh have notably been accused of tit-for-tat arrests in Aden and Ataq (Al Janoob Al Youm, 11 May 2022), after which Tareq Saleh-affiliated forces deployed in the STC stronghold of Aden (Al Mashhad Al Janubi, 12 May 2022). Deployments of both STC- and Saleh-affiliated forces were also reported in Shabwah, where both are vying for influence (Marib Al Euz, 14 May 2022). Amid reports of general dissent within STC ranks, some southern commanders have accused the STC leadership of complacency towards Tareq Saleh and threatened to disobey future orders (Al Mashhad Al Janubi, 12 May 2022; Al Janoob Al Youm, 10 May 2022).
In Hadramawt governorate, tensions between the STC and forces affiliated with the Islah party have also been reported during the truce period, with 1st Military District forces deploying in the Hadramawt valley region (Masa Press, 23 May 2022). In Suqutra, STC-affiliated forces abducted the head of the governor’s office as they stormed a meeting of Islah party figures on 24 May. Southern sources have also linked the Islah party to the rise in AQAP activity and attacks in southern Yemen (South24, 15 May 2022).
Although these tensions and force mobilizations have not led to outbreaks of violence at the time of writing, reports of increased competition between factions of the anti-Houthi camp in southern Yemen are worrying. This is also coming at a time when the STC is at a crossroads, faced with unique challenges now that it is an official part of the political body governing Yemen (Sana’a Center, 3 May 2022).
After more than seven years of war, the UN-mediated truce paved the way for unprecedented positive developments in Yemen. For the first time since the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015, Yemen experienced more than a week without airstrikes from coalition fighter jets, with no such strikes recorded across the initial two months of the truce. Monthly reported fatalities have also been at their lowest levels since January 2015, including a decrease by more than 50% of fatalities from civilian targeting. The positive impacts of the truce are tangible. The fact that the conflict parties have agreed to a two-month extension and have started to engage in regular discussions through a military coordinating committee is an encouraging sign for the future (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 6 June 2022).
However, going into this extension, there are developments of concern that should continue to be monitored. Most notably, while reported civilian fatalities have fallen during the truce, they also made up a larger share of overall fatalities. This is partially explained by landmine contamination across the country, which poses an ongoing and increasing threat to the civilian population. Particular attention will need to be paid to this issue, as the truce agreement includes the reopening of roads in Taizz and other governorates (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 6 June 2022). Even if fighting on the frontlines ceases and a sustainable political settlement is reached, civilians are likely to continue to suffer disproportionately from the conflict.
Moreover, developments outside the parameters of the truce have the potential to derail any gains. AQAP activity may be back on the rise, for instance, although some experts argue that it might be in the interest of certain parties to blame attacks on the organization (Twitter @Dr_E_Kendall, 10 May 2022).
The political sensitivities of rival PLC factions could also lead to outbreaks of violence, with tensions already emerging. As a reminder of the secessionist demands of the STC, STC President Aydarus Al Zubaydi refrained from reading the term “unity” when PLC members took the oath in April (South24, 19 April 2022). Ahead of the truce extension, though, the PLC announced the creation of a committee to unify the security and military apparatus within territories held by the various PLC factions, in an encouraging development (Al Masdar, 30 May 2022). The parties will try to avoid a repeat scenario of the 2019 clashes between Hadi- and STC-affiliated forces in southern Yemen (see this ACLED analysis for more on this episode of the Yemen conflict).
ACLED will continue to monitor the situation over the coming two months. Further analysis on truce violations and broader conflict and protest trends since the announcement of the agreement can be found at ACLED’s Yemen Truce Monitor.