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AUGUST 2020

Saudi-led Blockade Of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End?

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Saudi-led Blockade Of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End?

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Yemen has been almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world since 2015, following the announcement by way of a letter forwarded to the UN Security Council on the 26th of March of that year by the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Then, the GCC stated that they received a request of support from the president of Yemen and that they were therefore embarking on a military campaign against Yemen to reinstall pro-Saudi President Mansur Hadi. More than five years later, the people of Yemen remain trapped in a veritable hell on earth and there is still no end in sight.

Over five years after the commencement of the Saudi-led military campaign and economic blockade, tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed, many more thousands gravely wounded, and millions face starvation as the ‘Saudi-led coalition’ continues its destructive effort to reinstall a ‘president’ who clearly has very little support among his own people and has been safely ensconced in Riyadh for most of the intervening period. Leaving aside for the moment the absurd if not grotesque concept of the Saudis and the UAE leading any campaign in support of democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms, and legitimate government, three things which their own subjects have never had the slightest experience with.

An analysis posted at one of the Carnegie institutes notes that Yemen has experienced “Gulf Arab solidarity only in the form of an economic blockade and aerial bombardment [against it] from states that have kept the country at arms’ length in times of both war and peace.” LINK It must be noted at the outset however that GCC-member State Oman declined to participate in the onslaught launched against the Yemeni people from the outset, and Qatar was barred from all Gulf Cooperation Council activities after the falling out with the Saudis in 2017.

The publicly declared motivations and justifications of this astoundingly brutal and destructive act of unity and solidarity shift between vanquishing the ‘Houthi rebels’ (officially known as the Ansar Allah movement) and restoring the ‘internationally recognized government’, confronting the threat of terrorism posed by the expansion of Al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, and preventing Iran from gaining influence in Yemen.

Saudi-led Blockade Of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End?

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Although the hostility of most of the GCC members to Iran is beyond doubt, the real reason behind the massive aerial bombardments, foreign invasion and total physical and economic blockade is being revealed with more clarity as time has passed, namely the Saudis’ and the UAE’s ambitions to annex parts of Yemen through compliant puppet presidents and proxy groups willing to grant them control over ports, future oil and gas pipelines, military bases and any other natural resources and markets that Yemen might be found to possess.

The ‘international community’ continues to support this act of wanton savagery and genocide through the travel bans, financial sanctions and weapons and economic embargo imposed by the Security Council almost exclusively on ‘the Houthis’, who are universally blamed by the foreign aggressors and a handful of Yemenis living in self-imposed exile in Riyadh as bearing full responsibility for the armed conflict.

The Russian Federation was the only member of the Security Council not to vote in favour of the resolution in 2015 shortly after the external intervention commenced, noting that it was one-sided and did not therefore facilitate a political solution. The Venezuelan representative observed that the non-permanent members of the Council were sidelined from all substantive discussions, but nonetheless voted in favour of the resolution.

In effect, the sanctions and embargo have imposed a total blockade against at least a third of the people of Yemen, a brutal and hypocritical collective punishment for rejecting the dictates of the GCC and ‘the international community’. The rest of Yemen, occupied and under the control of either Saudi or UAE military forces and their ‘local partners’. The key local ally of the UAE is the Southern Transitional Council, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reliese on the crumbling Hadi government. Al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and other terrorist groups, like ISIS, also took an advantage of the conflict expanding their presence in the country.

Saudi-led Blockade Of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End?

Topographic map of Yemen

The reports of the UN experts and special envoys have noted that the Saudi-led coalition is committing at least as many war crimes as the Houthis, probably many more in fact, but apart from bland pleas to please kill less civilians nothing is done by the Security Council to stop the foreign invasion and onslaught and investigate all accusations of war crimes in order to hold those responsible to account. Not surprising, given that three of the permanent members of the Council (the US, UK and France) were identified in the 2019 UN investigation as being probable accomplices to such war crimes.

Background Developments

A comprehensive analysis of the causes and motivations behind the devastation of Yemen would probably have to hark back to the Ottoman Empire and Yemen’s fierce and ultimately successful resistance to the empire’s rule. More recently and more pertinently, one could sift through the ashes of the imperial proxy wars following the establishment of Yemen as an independent country in the 1960s and the civil war that ensued between the north, supported by the Saudis – and the British in an effort to retain the port of Aden for its rapidly diminishing global empire (a former ‘special forces’ commander relates in some detail some of the Empire’s clandestine operations in Yemen during this period, a development that has its counterparts today as British and US special forces assassins continue to plague the country), and the south (supported by the Arab Nationalists in Gamal Nasser’s Egypt). The resulting stalemate led to the creation of North Yemen, originally under a monarchy and subsequently under a military dictatorship, and the ‘Marxist communist’ South Yemen, which evicted the British from Aden to establish a fully independent and sovereign country in the south of Yemen for the first time for many centuries.

However, for present purposes it is probably best to take as a starting point the ‘Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative’ of 2011.

The Houthis advance on positions of Saudi-backed forces in Yemen:

The GCC Initiative

The GCC Initiative was based entirely on a deal done between the country’s long-time dictators, the President (Saleh) and the Vice President (Hadi), and involved transferring power from the former to the latter as part of a transitional arrangement until inclusive consultations with the rest of the people of Yemen could be held. The agreement was supported by their political factions and foreign patrons among the Gulf State monarchy/ dictatorships and beyond, and the final result was presented to the people in the form of a presidential election procedure in which Hadi was the only candidate.

The process was described shortly thereafter by Maged al-Madhaji (How Yemen’s post-2011 transitional phase ended in war):

“The Gulf Cooperation Council and the international community brought together Yemen’s various political power brokers in 2011 to help end the crisis the country had entered following the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings. These negotiations resulted in an agreement that became known as the GCC Initiative, which ushered Yemen into a “transitional phase”. This period was intended to pave the way for a peaceful transfer of power away from President Ali Abdullah Saleh [to his long time Vice-President Hadi], address citizen demands for democratic reform and transitional justice, empower the Yemeni state, curb the use of violence by political actors and prevent a return to authoritarianism.

While the GCC Initiative was effective in achieving short-term stability, flaws in the agreement and the actions of local power brokers and the international community led to the transitional phase’s spectacular failure, such that today Yemen has been in a brutal war for more than a year [now more than 5 years]. In light of the recent talks to bring about a political resolution to the conflict, it is imperative to examine why the GCC Initiative failed, in order to help address the real drivers of the conflict and prevent any new agreement from merely postponing the outbreak of renewed hostilities.

Some of the main findings of this paper include:

  • International pressure on local actors in Yemen to reach some form of accord – during negotiations on both the GCC Initiative and the subsequent National Dialogue Conference (NDC) – resulted in agreements that were mostly symbolic in nature and avoided resolving the country’s most critical issues. They also allowed Saleh to maintain much of his authority, disempowered the state through a “power sharing” arrangement between traditional Yemeni parties, placed excessive responsibility on transitional president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to manage the transitional phase while also hobbling his ability to do so, and eroded public support for the process of political transition.
  • While the international community played a constructive, indeed vital, role in the beginning of the transitional phase, the unyielding support of the United Nations and foreign governments for Hadi’s presidency became a catalyst for the country’s fragmentation after Hadi was accused of massive mismanagement, corruption, and of failing to implement trust-building measures in the run-up to the national dialogue. LINK

Hadi’s request to the Gulf Cooperation Council for intervention in 2015 continues to be the sole formal basis for the ongoing military campaign and economic blockade of Yemen. The Houthis continue to be portrayed as the only obstacle to a peaceful resolution, notwithstanding that no effort has been made to implement the agenda of the National Dialogue Conference, and that the accusations against the Hadi administration of massive mismanagement and corruption have steadily built over time.

The military campaign has inflicted unimaginable suffering on the people of Yemen: the infrastructure for all essential functions and services – transport, hospitals, schools, water, electricity – has been destroyed, cluster bombs are strewn throughout most arable areas bringing food production to a halt, almost all food imports are prevented by the Saudi-led blockade, and according to the most detailed estimates available (compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project – ACLED) at least one hundred thousand people, mostly civilians, have been killed directly by armed hostilities. There are not even approximate estimates for the number of people killed by ‘indirect’ causes resulting from the military campaign, blockade, starvation, disease and despair. LINK

Which raises the question, who the hell is Hadi anyway, given that his request for military intervention enabled the Saudi-led coalition to launch their devastating military campaign, ‘Operation Decisive Storm’? As more years pass and the mass slaughter grows unabated, according to all appearances he is a true modern day ‘Quisling’, a former vice president who is willing to use his dubious status as the consensus president of the main power brokers in Yemen (and their foreign sponsors) at the time (2011) to seek support from two of the most ruthless, totalitarian dictatorships on the planet for an open ended blitzkrieg war against his own country and murder tens of thousands of his own people in order to reinstall himself in the presidential palace.

One thing is obvious – the people of Yemen don’t want him, neither in the North (conveniently bundled together as ‘rebel Houthis’) nor in the South, and they are prepared to resist the petro-dollar inflated US- and UK-backed (and operated) war machine of the Saudis and the UAE and their legions of mercenaries against impossible odds in order to reject the imposition of the plots and schemes of the GCC and the ‘international community’.

An impact of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Saada:

The 2015 GCC Letter to the Security Council

The military campaign was opened with a cynical diplomatic manoeuvre purporting to justify and legitimize the attack before the international community. The Permanent Representative of Qatar to the UN transmitted a letter to the Secretary General and the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Permanent Representatives of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the Chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Mission of the State of Kuwait to the United Nations.

The letter informed that it contained a joint statement from the aforementioned States “in response to the request by the President of the Republic of Yemen, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, for the protection of Yemen and its people and to help Yemen to counter terrorist organizations.”

It added:

“We should be grateful if you would have the present letter and its enclosure circulated as a document of the Security Council.”

This presumably was intended to cloak the letter with some sort of status as a Security Council document, but neither the basis nor the conduct of the military operation itself has ever been formally considered by a Security Council resolution. Such resolutions have been limited to imposing punitive sanctions, almost exclusively targeting the Houthis, taking steps to authorize implementation of the arms embargo, and establishing a Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts to monitor and report on developments. In the letter transmitted to the Security Council on the 26th of March, Hadi denounces:

“the ongoing acts of aggression and the incessant attacks against the country’s sovereignty that are being committed by the Houthi coup orchestrators, with the aim of dismembering Yemen and undermining its security and stability…

We have made every effort possible to stop the heinous, criminal attacks being committed by the Houthis against our people, attacks that have left deep wounds in every Yemeni home. We have also strived with all our power to arrive at a peaceful solution that will take the country out of the dark abyss into which the Houthi coup orchestrators have plunged it, protect our people…

Yet all our peaceful and constant efforts have been categorically rejected by the Houthi coup orchestrators, who are continuing their campaign of aggression aimed subjugating the rest of the country’s regions, particularly the south…

[The Houthi militias] are supported by internal forces that have sold their souls and are concerned only with their own interests. They also being supported by regional Powers that are seeking to impose their control over the country and turn it into a tool by which they can extend their influence in the region. The threat is therefore not only to the security of Yemen, but also to that of the entire region and to international peace and security…

I therefore appeal to you, and to the allied States that you represent, to stand by the Yemeni people as you have always done and come to the country’s aid. I urge you, in accordance with the right of self-defence set forth in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, and with the Charter of the League of Arab States and the Treaty on Joint Defence, to provide immediate support in every form and take the necessary measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the ongoing Houthi aggression, repel the attack that is expected at any moment on Aden and the other cities of the South, and help Yemen to confront Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”

In their corresponding letter, the Saudis claim that they were attacked by the Houthis on one occasion in 2009 to bolster the claim that the peace and security of the entire region was at stake.

It all sounds too good to be true. Finally, a cause of pure Good against pure Evil for the world (and the people of Yemen, of course) to rally around. Surely, once the foreign military intervention started the people of Yemen would flock to join their foreign liberators and rise up against the Houthis. As the years have passed and the casualties and destruction have mounted to a horrific toll however, the implausible narrative has become more and more difficult to maintain.

On the 14th of April 2015, some two and a half weeks after the letter was transmitted from the GCC members to the Security Council, the Council adopted Resolution 2216 imposing sanctions and an arms embargo against the Houthis and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh (son of the former president and commander of the Yemen Republican Guard) and authorizing neighbouring states to inspect cargos heading to Yemen, with Russia abstaining as “the sponsors refused to include the requirements insisted upon by Russia, which were addressed to all parties to the conflict, to swiftly halt fire and begin peace talks.”

The resolution ‘noted’ the letter transmitted on the 26th of March but did not endorse it explicitly, much less authorize open-ended foreign military operations against Yemen. Rather, it ‘urged’ all relevant parties to “resume Yemen’s political transition process with the participation of all Yemeni parties in accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism and the outcomes of the comprehensive National Dialogue conference.”

The Hodeidah Agreement between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, brokered by the international community last year, continued the pattern of denying the Houthis everything and denying the Saudi-led coalition nothing. In effect, it required the Houthis to withdraw from the last port under their control, the last remaining point of contact with the outside world through which supplies could pass (if they weren’t confiscated by the Saudi-led coalition warships patrolling the adjacent waters), and hand over control to the international community. Meanwhile, the Saudi’s and UAE remain free to continue flooding the country with weapons and mercenaries through every other port and border crossing with no limits or restrictions whatsoever.

The ‘Saudi-led coalition’

In 2016 Martin Berger (‘The bitter lessons of the military intervention in Yemen’) commented:

“Against the background of the widely recognized poor quality of Saudi regular troops, from the very beginning of its military aggression, Riyadh started hiring foreign mercenaries from among the countries of the so-called coalition it created. For example, Sudan and Qatar both received one billion dollars each for providing its troops. Mauritania received up to 850 million dollars for similar services. Therefore, Saudi authorities have been spending a total of 175 million dollars a month on bombing raids and 500 million dollars on ground operations…”

The Sudanese contribution rose to around 15,000 troops on the ground, used as expendable cannon fodder to reduce the Saudi’s and UAE’s losses of their own troops. Last year Sudan announced that it was reducing its involvement and it has since reduced the number of troops officially involved to around 5,000. The US and the UK supply and equip the aerial forces conducting the mass bombardments and manage the most technologically demanding aspects of the aerial campaign, providing training, intelligence, logistical support and weapons.

Private military companies have also been heavily involved: Academi (formerly Blackwater) has been most widely reported in this respect, Dyncorp is also occasionally mentioned. South Front reported (‘First group of Dyncorp mercenaries arrived in Yemen and replaced the ones from ex-Blackwater’) in March 2016:

“Based on the contract worth $3 billion between the United Arab Emirates and the US military firm DynCorp, the mercenaries of this corporation will be deployed in Yemen where UAE forces are fighting against the Yemeni resistance forces,” Khabar News Agency quoted an official from Yemeni Defense Ministry.

According to the official who wanted to remain anonymous said that the first group of mercenaries recently arrived in the port city of Aden and replace the ones from the US group Blackwater, now renamed Academi.

He added that within DynCorp there are also the new special naval forces which entered the port of Ras Omran southwest of Aden.

DynCorp is Blackwater´s rival which hires the mercenaries and sends them to fight in foreign countries on paid missions.

After Yemeni forces inflicted the Academi militants heavy losses they decided to withdraw from Bab-el-Mandeb region. Therefore The UAE was forced to bring in the new mercenaries. This time from the DynCorp corporation.”

In December 2015 Colombia Reports reported that six mercenaries from Colombia had been killed in Yemen:

“Six Colombian mercenaries and their Australian commander were killed in Yemen, media from the Arab nation reported Wednesday.

According to YemenTV, the Colombians were killed in combat between state forces and their allies, and Houthi rebels in the country’s south.

The killed fighters are believed to work for the United Arab Emirates that reportedly sent hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to the southern Arab country to fight an ongoing rebellion that has killed at least 5,700 since March when fighting escalated, according to the United Nations.”

Wikipedia has a quite comprehensive review of the main countries and forces involved in the Saudi-led coalition (‘belligerents’). According to the website, major contributors have included the Saudis (100 warplanes and 150,000 troops), the United Arab Emirates (30 warplanes), Sudan (4 warplanes and 15,000 troops), Bahrain (15 warplanes and 300 troops), Kuwait (15 warplanes), Qatar (10 warplanes, 1000 troops), Egypt (4 warships and warplanes), Jordan (6 warplanes), Morocco (6 warplanes and 1,500 troops), Senegal (2,100 troops), and Academi (1,800 ‘security contractors’). LINK

This video analysis was originally released by SouthFront in 2018:

Several recent reports by South Front have documented the mounting evidence that the Saudis and the UAE have taken advantage of the military intervention to occupy and control strategic areas and resources through proxy groups in Yemen, in particular the Riyadh-based Hadi administration and the Southern Transitional Council. LINK

Turkey has also increased its involvement, deepening its support for the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islah Party and militias in the hope of obtaining concessions to strategic facilities and resources (including, according to media reports last week, approximately 200 fighters from Yemen to bolster its forces in Libya). LINK

Saudi-led Blockade Of Yemen: How Did It All Start, Will It Ever End?

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War crimes and crimes against humanity

Since late 2015 the reports of the UN experts and envoys have reported probable war crimes being committed by all parties to the conflict, but noting for the first time that the Saudi-led military campaign has been a major perpetrator of war crimes instead of putting all the blame on the Houthis.

The extermination being conducted by the Saudi-led coalition has included the widespread use of, for example, the use of cluster bombs, the deliberate destruction of essential infrastructure and targeting of civilian areas.

According to Veterans Today, it has also included the use of at least one neutron bomb. LINK1, LINK2

In 2016 Martin Berger (‘The bitter lessons of the military intervention in Yemen’) reviewed the emerging evidence of war crimes being committed in Yemen:

“As it has been announced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein:

“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the Coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” adding the air strikes have hit “markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties – and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities including the capital Sana’a.”

For this reason, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the meeting of the UN Security Council that was held at the end of the last year (2015), accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of the deliberate extermination of the civilian population of Yemen, since they are hitting civilian targets most of the time.

Accusations of ongoing war crimes being committed in Yemen intensified even further when on January 25 in an interview with the Japanese newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun, the press secretary of the Saudi coalition, Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Ussery, announced that the coalition has been using cluster bombs to suppress the Houthis. At the same time Human Rights Watch accused Washington of turning a blind to the ever increasing number of facts regarding the extensive use of cluster bombs in Yemen by Saudi Arabia.”

The annual reports of the Secretary General on children and armed conflicts around the world have generally bowed to Saudi pressure and declined to condemn the coalition’s killing of thousands of children in Yemen. Voice of America reported last month that the Saudis were removed from the blacklist included in the report after being included for the first time in 2019:

“The report found the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for killing or maiming 222 children in Yemen in 2019,” the letter [from a coalition of 24 human rights groups to the UN Secretary General] said. “Yet the coalition was de-listed from the report’s annexes, citing a `sustained significant decrease’ in casualties during the year and progress in implementing a memorandum of understanding that was signed in March of last year.”

In 2016, then secretary-general Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi-led coalition from the blacklist of government forces that committed grave violations against children the previous year following a vehement protest from Saudi Arabia.

The NGOs said: “It appears that the goalpost with regards to listing and de-listing continually changes to accommodate a predetermined outcome: not upsetting powerful U.N. member states.”

The 24 organizations said the “omissions and discrepancies” damage the credibility of the report, which is an important tool to improve the protection of children in conflict, and called for “an accurate and evidence-based list” that reflects the evidence that has been collected and verified.

They also urged the secretary general to reconsider de-listing the Saudi-led coalition and the Tatmadaw from the 2020 report.

Among the letter’s signatories were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, Medecins du Monde, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, Women’s Refugee Commission and World Vision International…”

Since 2017 the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, established by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has conducted more detailed investigations into the allegations of war crimes being conducted in Yemen. In 2019, their exhaustive report concluded that the US, UK and France are also probably guilty of complicity in the war crimes due to their active support of and participation in the Saudi-led military campaign. Global Research noted after the report’s publication:

The report states,

“The Group of Experts reiterates that steps required to address the human rights and international law violations in Yemen have been continually discussed, and there can no longer be any excuses made for failure to take meaningful steps to address them. The best way to protect the Yemeni population is to stop the fighting by reaching a political settlement which includes measures for accountability.”

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are two of the largest purchasers of U.S. British and French weapons. These weapons are being used to fight against the homegrown Houthi movement which controls Yemen’s capital. The report states,

“The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings.”

According to the U.N. report, Saudi and UAE coalitions are killing civilians in air strikes, and deliberately denying them food. The report put blame on all sides of the conflict…

Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of Experts on Yemen a creation of the U.N. Human Rights Council stated,

“Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable. This endemic impunity—for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict—cannot be tolerated anymore.

Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people.” LINK

The ongoing conflict in Yemen became just another demonstration of the double-faced policy of the so-called united West and its allies that use words like “democracy”, “human rights”, “humanitarian aid”, “peacemaking process” in order to hide their own destructive expansionist actins in the region and around the World. In the current conditions, there are little chances that the conflict in Yemen will end in the near future. The Saudi-led coalition demonstrated that it is not able to deliver a devastating blow to the Houthis and achieve a military victory. Instead, it’s waging the war of attrition against the Yemeni people by instigating the already deep humanitarian crisis and regularly bombing civilian infrastructure. The Houthis respond to these actions by extensive retaliatory strikes on Saudi Arabia itself and offensive operations against Saudi-backed forces in Yemen.

Taking into the account that Saudi Arabia is not able to become a winner in this war, there are only two options how to put an end to the civilians’ suffering. These could be the Houthis’ full military victory over the Saudi-led coalition or the comprehensive peace deal between all the sides involved in the conflict that would lead to the lifting of the blockade.

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  • chris chuba

    This was my big takeaway…

    “Finally, a cause of pure Good against pure Evil for the world … to rally around… against the Houthis.”

    This July 4th, my heart will swell with pride knowing that most of those cluster bombs were manufactured in the USoA and knowing that God is on our side.

    • Jim Allen

      Who’s crack pipe you smokin’ ?

      • Pave Way IV

        It’s meant as sarcasm.

        • Jim Allen

          Good thing.

  • kenpachi

    i saw like 15 articles about ‘chaz’ per day for 3 weeks, this i see once every 3 months

  • cechas vodobenikov

    US naval vessels patrol the coast of Yemen in order to prevent medicine and other humanitarian aid deliveries to the valiant Houthis…sure amerikans r wonderful people?