BEIRUT - Saudi Arabia called its military push against rebels in Yemen two names: "Operation Storm of Decisiveness" (it wasn't) and "Operation Restoring Hope" (it hasn't).
More than four years after the Saudis and other nations sought to help restore government control by defeating the Houthi rebels, the war in Yemen has left almost 100,000 people dead, brought near-famine to millions and made the country's name synonymous with misery. Aid workers use words such as "biblical" and "epidemic" to describe conditions.
The country seems so hopeless to many nations that even the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia's closest partner in the coalition it leads in Yemen, recently announced it was withdrawing most of its troops in hopes of strengthening a peace initiative.
Instead, one of the coalition's Yemeni factions on Aug. 7 snatched the port of the southern city of Aden, the temporary seat of power of the U.N.-recognized Yemeni government and a bastion of UAE influence. It was part of an offensive that had already overrun the government's bases and the presidential palace, forcing Riyadh to respond with what it called "military action" on one of its putative allies to stop the advance.
With the coalition splintered, Saudi Arabia remains largely alone, calling for ever greater U.S. arms support to pursue an increasingly unpopular war where victory seems remote, if not impossible.
"The war was never winnable in the first place," Farea Muslimi, head of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in Yemen's capital, said in a phone interview. "With the second-most-important partner gone, even this illusion is no longer there."
There's little sign, nevertheless, that the Saudis or the Houthis, a politico-religious group, are ready to quit the fight.
"It's high time that the Houthis… put an end to their illegitimate occupation of the centers of powers in Yemen," Saudi Ambassador to the United Nations Abdallah Mouallimi said at a July press conference in New York.
The uprising tied to the Arab Spring of 2011 that opposed Yemen's authoritarian government was aimed at ushering in a more inclusive state and dispose of problems such as corruption and food shortages. In 2014, the Houthis, who have received backing from Iran, were fed up with the slow path to change and blitzed into the Yemeni capital, Sana.
Saudi Arabia launched its intervention in March 2015. It was meant to signal a new era of muscular foreign policy, especially in Saudi Arabia's longtime clash with Iran.
Under the stewardship of Prince Mohammad bin Salman, then the defense minister, Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of nine countries in the region and Africa to oust the Houthis and reinstate the government of former Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
It unleashed an intense air campaign, along with a crippling sea blockade that left perennially impoverished Yemen on the brink of famine. The UAE led the ground offensive with a force cobbled together from mercenaries, Sudanese militia fighters and Yemeni militias who hated each other a bit less than they hated the Houthis. The U.S., meanwhile, provided intelligence and logistics support, including in-flight refueling; it also fast-tracked weapons deliveries to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The intervention was meant to be over in a few months, but many analysts say the conflict has become a quagmire reminiscent of Vietnam. The Houthis still hold much of the country's western provinces, including Sana, and the highlands near the Saudi border as well as a portion of Yemen's Red Sea coast.
The human cost of the war has been devastating, with millions of people displaced. Aid agencies and others say 24.1 million people out of a population of 28 million require some form of help.