Leadership disruption, windows of opportunity, and war escalation

Haykal Bafana in the NYT on the Houthi takeover in Yemen:

After anti-government protests in 2011, Ali Abdullah Saleh, then the president, came under pressure from the United Nations and agreed to step down. Elections were held and Mr. Saleh’s vice president, Mr. Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot, was elected president…

As the political transition meandered along, violence became dreadfully routine. The Yemeni state disintegrated in slow motion…

[N]orthern Yemen fell into a widespread state of war between the Houthis and the Yemeni military. Throughout a six-month Houthi onslaught last year, Mr. Hadi refused to send army reinforcements to fight the Houthi militia in the north…Mr. Hadi’s repeated failure to punish Houthi aggression and his tepid calls for peace were read as weakness…

Within six months, the Yemeni state had lost control of huge amounts of their military hardware, as well as four northern provinces, to the Houthis.

Army leadership resented Mr. Hadi for his refusal to punish the Houthis, despite the deaths of hundreds of soldiers. That’s why, in September, it was hardly a surprise when the Houthi militia entered Sana and established control. Military units refused to fight the Houthi advance, while others, perhaps sympathetic to the Houthi cause, were quietly supportive. The capital fell as Yemen’s army gave Mr. Hadi a taste of his own policy of appeasement.

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