A new report from The Wall Street Journal highlights an evolving threat in the ongoing civil war in Yemen: unmanned aircraft equipped with explosives used to attack government forces.
Since 2015, the Yemeni government has been embroiled in a civil war against the Houthis, a militia movement that originated in northern Yemen. That conflict has become incredibly controversial. Largely considered part of a larger regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it has caused considerable casualties that have led to war crimes allegations and caused a famine that has killed approximately 50,000 people. The United States has been involved in the supply of arms and personnel to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting the Houthi rebels.
The Wall Street Journal report cites sources who say that Houthi rebels have stepped up their game when it comes to using drones, graduating to use surveillance for air strikes. According to the report, Saudi officials estimate that they have shot down more than 140 drones and that "their technology has evolved rapidly from small surveillance drones propelled by propellers to a larger model in the form of aircraft, nicknamed UAV-X by researchers from United Nations, that can travel more than 900 miles at a speed of 150 miles per hour. " That is worrisome because it greatly expands the reach of rebel groups and could see how violence spread beyond Yemen's borders to affect sea routes in the Red Sea.
The WSJ says that "the Houthis have become one of the most adept militant groups in the use of drones in war," and that some intelligence officials think that the group has received assistance of Iran.
Unmanned aircraft vary in size, from the large unmanned aircraft used by the US military to the toys found in shopping malls. The Houthi experience shows that technology can be acquired, smuggled into a rebel and armed region.
Since last year, the Houthis have launched a series of drone attacks. In July 2018, they claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil refinery in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and against the international airport in the United Arab Emirates. In January, they used a plane loaded with bombs to attack several Yemeni military officers and killed the military intelligence chief, Major General Mohammad Saleh Tamah. It is believed that it is the first time that an unmanned aircraft is used to carry out a successful attack. The group has since threatened with similar attacks. While Yemen has launched its own attacks against alleged drones, it has not been a complete success, as the Houthis have continued to launch drone strikes in recent weeks, highlighting the difficulties in combating the threat that these planes represent.
There is more in the full report WSJ that you can read here.