Following the successful Houthi takeover of the Yemeni government in early 2015, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s responded to the Houthi takeover by launching a series of airstrikes and establishing an air and naval blockade against Yemen. On 26 March 2016, Saudi Arabia launched Operation Decisive Storm. Supporting the Saudi-led operation was a coalition of eight Arab neighbors. The first phase of the operation would last until 21 April 2015. It was then followed by a secondary operation, dubbed Restoring Hope. Despite claims Saudi offensive operations would cease, air and naval strikes continued against Houthi positions.
The transition to Operation Restoring Hope also saw cross-border engagements between Saudi/Coalition forces and Houthi fighters. On 5 May 2015, pro-Houthi fighters captured five Saudi soldiers near the city of Najran on the Saudi-Yemen border. One month later, a SCUD missile launched from inside Yemen was targeted against King Khaled air base, though Saudi officials reported the missile was brought down by anti-air assets. Further SCUD attacks were launched against Saudi Arabia in October and December 2015.
Further complicating the conflict has been the support of the Houthi rebels by Iran. In April 2015, two Iranian officers of the special operations Quds Force were captured by anti-Houthi troops in the port city of Aden. While Iran has denied supporting the rebels, in September 2015 a shipment of weapons was seized from an Iranian fishing boat in the Arabian Sea bound for rebels in Yemen. As the Iranians continue to bolster their strength in the Middle East (supporting the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War and providing weapons and supplies to Shi’ite militia battling ISIS forces in Iraq), a pro-Iranian regime in Yemen could further destabilize the region.
The Saudi’s and their Arab allies have also utilized private military corporations (PMC) in the campaign. In October 2015, the United Arab Emirates deployed 450 South American mercenaries to Yemen. The training provided to these mercenaries was conducted by Erik Prince, the former CEO and founder of Blackwater USA. While officially banned by the United Nations, mercenaries in the form of PMCs have been extensively by the United States and its Allies in the Global War on Terror. In Yemen, the use of PMCs allows Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies the ability to commit troops to the fight while avoiding the deployment of their own forces to combat the Houthis.