A Timeline of the Yemen Crisis, from the 1990s to the Present

Early Years: Saleh and the Houthis

  • 1990’s – After the reunification of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh transitions from president of North Yemen—a post he had held since 1978—to president of the Republic of Yemen. At the same time, the Zaidi-Shia group Ansar Allah—or the Houthis—gradually gain power; the group’s rise has the tacit support of President Saleh.
  • 1994: Civil War – Just years after the reunification of Yemen, the unintegrated armies of the north and the south face off, resulting in a brief civil war that resulted in the defeat of the southern army and shored up Yemen’s reunification.
  • 2000 – Saleh reaches a border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia (Treaty of Jeddah) and seeks to disarm the Houthis, whom he had viewed previously as a useful cudgel against Saudi interference in Yemen.

2004-2010: Houthi Rebellion

  • Tensions run high between Saleh’s government and the Houthis—led by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi—after Saleh’s border deal with Saudi Arabia. Al-Houthi eventually leads a rebellion against the Yemeni government in 2004.
  • June-September 2004 – Starting in June 2004, Saleh’s government begins arresting hundreds of Houthi members and issues a reward for Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi’s arrest. Fighting continues until al-Houthi is killed in September.
  • March-June 2005 – Fighting between the Houthis—now led by Hussein’s brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi—and government forces surges, leaving hundreds dead. Fighting ceases after the sides reach an agreement, resulting in the surrender of the Houthis’ top military commander.
  • 2005-2006 – Sporadic clashes between the government and the Houthis continue, but in March 2006, Saleh grants amnesty to 600 Houthi fighters. Saleh goes on to win the 2006 election.
  • January-June 2007 – Early in 2007, the Houthi rebels and Saleh’s government again find themselves at odds. Fighting continues for five months until Abdul-Malik al-Houthi reaches a ceasefire agreement with Saleh with the help of Qatar.
  • April-July 2008 – The ceasefire had not turned a year-old when more fighting breaks out between the government and the rebels. By July, Ali Abdullah Saleh declares an end to the fighting in the Houthi-dominated Saada governorate.
  • 2009-2010: Operation Scorched Earth – In August 2009, the Yemeni military launches Operation Scorched Earth to crush the Houthi rebellion in Saada. At this point, Houthi rebels begin fighting with Saudi forces in cross-border clashes. Fighting continues until, after rounds of offers and counteroffers, Saleh’s government agrees to a ceasefire with Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and the rebels in February 2010. The Yemeni military simultaneously carries out Operation Blow to the Head, a crackdown on both the rebels and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
  • September 2010 – Government forces besiege the governorate of Shabwa in southeast Yemen to root out AQAP militants.

2011: Arab Spring Reaches Yemen

  • January 2011 – Demonstrations calling for the end of Saleh’s 33-year rule begin. Saleh offers some concessions—promising not to seek reelection—but the protests spread. Security forces and Saleh supporters launch a crackdown that eventually leaves between 200 and 2,000 people dead.
  • April 2011 – Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) agrees to a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-brokered deal to hand over power, but the president refuses to sign on. This prompts the influential Hashid tribal federation and several army commanders to back the opposition, after which clashes erupt in Sanaa.
  • June 2011 – Saleh is seriously injured in a bombing and travels to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.
  • September 2011 – Saleh returns to the presidential palace amid renewed clashes. It is not until November 2011 that he signs a deal that has his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, assume power and form a unity government.
  • February 2012 – Hadi is sworn in for a two-year term as president after an election in which he stood unopposed.

Post-Arab Spring: Unity Government and Houthi Takeover

  • January 2014 – The National Dialogue Conference concludes after ten months of deliberations, agreeing to a document on which the new constitution would be based.
  • February 2014 – A presidential panel approves a political transition plan for Yemen that organizes the country into a federation of six regions.
  • August 2014 – Following two weeks of anti-government protests, President Hadi dissolves his cabinet and overturns a controversial rise in fuel prices.
  • September-October 2014 – The Houthis take control over most of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The following month the rebels seize the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.
  • January 2015 – After being placed under house arrest by the Houthis, Hadi resigns as president. Despite previous attempts to craft a power-sharing agreement between Hadi and the Houthis, the two had continued to clash. The Houthis later reject a draft constitution proposed by Hadi’s government.
  • February 2015 – The Houthis take control of the Yemeni government, a move swiftly denounced by the United Nations. President Hadi flees the presidential palace in Sanaa and escapes to Aden, where he later rescinds his resignation, declaring himself the legitimate president, and deems the Houthi takeover a “coup.”
  • March 2015 – The Islamic State claims its first major attacks in Yemen, setting off two suicide bombs at Shia mosques in Sanaa. The Houthis start an offensive against government forces, advancing toward southern Yemen. President Hadi flees Aden and takes refuge in Saudi Arabia. Shortly thereafter, the Houthis seize parts of Taiz.

Saudi-led Coalition and Civil War

  • March 2015: Operation Decisive Storm – After repeated pleas from Hadi, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states—including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Sudan, and Kuwait—initiates Operation Decisive Storm in support of the ousted president. The coalition launches air strikes against Houthi targets, deploys small ground forces, and imposes a naval blockade. The United States announces its intention to aid the coalition’s efforts.
  • April 2015: Operation Restoring Hope – The coalition declares an end to Operation Decisive Storm. Saudi Arabia announces it would move on to a phase described as Operation Restoring Hope. Despite the announcement, the Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb Houthi positions and the United States increases its arms sales for the Saudi campaign in Yemen.
  • April 2015 – Despite the bombing campaign, the Houthis capture the city of Ataq. After three Saudi officers die in a Houthi attack at the Saudi border, Saudi Arabia boosts its border security. The Houthi fighters also condemn a UN Security Council resolution imposing an arms embargo on the group, calling the decision an act of “aggression.”
  • May 2015 – Ali Abdullah Saleh had previously been accused of siding with the Houthi rebels in support of Hadi’s ouster; in May, Saleh and Yemeni forces loyal to him announce a formal alliance with the Houthis. The Saudis and Houthis agree to a five-day “humanitarian ceasefire.” US President Barack Obama convenes a GCC meeting at Camp David to resolve the crisis in Yemen, but only two states send their leaders.
  • August 2015 – After months of fighting with Sunni tribesmen and AQAP militants, the Houthis take control of the entire Shabwah governorate.
  • September 2015 – President Hadi returns to Aden after Saudi-backed government forces and those loyal to Hadi recapture the port city from Houthi forces.
  • April 2016 – The United Nations sponsors talks between the Hadi government and the coalition of Houthis and former President Saleh’s General People’s Congress.
  • October 2016-May 2017 – Both sides of the conflict allegedly break ceasefires. The United Nations and others try to broker peace talks and political resolutions. The Houthis claim responsibility for firing missiles into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh.
  • May-November 2017 – Humanitarian agencies and watchdogs decry the Yemen crisis as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world. There are thousands of civilians dead and wounded, an outbreak of cholera, and a potential famine that would leave thousands on the brink of starvation.
  • November 2017 – Saudi Arabia intercepts a missile fired toward its airport in Riyadh and blames the Houthis, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah for escalating the war.
  • December 2017 – After Saleh had reversed course and sided with the Saudi-led coalition, fierce fighting in Sanaa between the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh leaves the former president dead. The Houthis control much of northern Yemen but face stiff opposition from the Saudi-led coalition. President Hadi—whose loyalists control much of south Yemen—has called for a popular uprising against Houthi rule in the north. Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, has vowed revenge against the Houthis for his father’s assassination.

Marcus Montgomery is a Junior Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC. To learn more about Marcus and read his previous publications click here

This timeline was created with the assistance of ACW’s Research and Analysis Intern Numan Aksoy.