On September 12th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared the US support of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. They attested that both U.S.-supported nations “are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
“We will continue to work closely with the Saudi-led coalition to ensure Saudi Arabia and the UAE maintain support for UN-led efforts to end the civil war in Yemen, allow unimpeded access for the delivery of commercial and humanitarian support through as many avenues as possible, and undertake actions that mitigate the impact of the conflict on civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Pompeo said in his statement.
“I endorse and fully support Secretary Pompeo’s certification to the Congress that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from their military operations to end the civil war in Yemen,” Mattis said.
Mattis further praised the Saudi-led coalition’s “commitment” to reaching peace. “The Saudi-led coalition’s commitment is reflected in their support for these UN-led efforts. Alongside the Department of State we are actively engaged with Mr. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy, to achieve a negotiated end to this fighting,” he said.
In a sign of closeness between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the US, an unnamed administration official told The Washington Post that Saudi and Emirati admission of responsibility for an August airstrike on a school bus that killed 40 Yemeni children with a U.S.-supplied bomb was “evidence of progress that they’re continuing to make.”
Under a new law linking the actions of Persian Gulf countries to continued U.S. military support, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is required to inform lawmakers by September 12th whether he thinks Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are doing enough to protect noncombatants in the two countries’ war against the Houthis in Yemen.
According to SFGate, since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in 2015, the US has provided limited aid to the operation, conducting aerial refueling for gulf warplanes, sharing intelligence and supplying partner militaries with sophisticated weaponry.
Following the new law, aerial refueling is conditioned on the administration’s ability to attest that those nations are taking meaningful steps to end the war and contain a massive humanitarian crisis.
A decision to support would have led to the criticism of human rights groups and activists, due to the war Saudi-led coalition having killed many civilians in the conflict. A decision to withhold backing, on the other hand, would have been seen as a slap in the face to close U.S. allies.
“The certification is an opportunity for the U.S. to give an honest assessment of the harm civilians are suffering in Yemen and the role the U.S. plays in supporting the Saudi-led coalition,” said Andrea Prasow, the deputy Washington director for Human Rights Watch.
Following Pompeo and Mattis’ attestation Sarah Leah Whitson, also from Human Rights Watch, said that their endorsement “farcical”. “It attempts to dodge a bipartisan congressional effort to block U.S. tanker aircraft from refueling Saudi and Emirati warplanes for the Yemen conflict,” as reported by the Daily Beast.
SFGate also cited officials across the government have voiced support in the past week for continuing and even expanding U.S. assistance to the coalition. But others remain opposed to publicly backing the campaign at a time when its record has generated sharp controversy.
The humanitarian emergency in Yemen has left millions hungry and suffering from disease, as reported by the Washington Post. Critics of the Saudi-led coalition say it has deepened the crisis by imposing severe sanctions on air and sea ports, as well as targeting civilians directly.
“We believe there is a moral imperative to do everything we can to ensure the Saudi-led coalition stops killing civilians,” Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Todd Young said in an article posted by the Washington Post on September 11th. “If that does not happen, support for the coalition in Congress may reach a breaking point as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis deteriorates further,” they wrote.
Defenders of the Saudi-led coalition say that critics overlook abuses carried out by the Houthis, and their links to Iran, with which both Saudi Arabia and the US have worsening diplomatic relations.
“I believe it harms our national security more to be part of the kill chain that results in children, women and men being killed,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, a former Air Force lawyer. “It is a huge recruiting tool for terrorists.”
This all comes after an attempt to hold peace talks for Yemen was abandoned on September 8th after three days of waiting for the Houthi movement’s delegation. Despite the failure, U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said he did not lose faith in peace. The talks were to happen in Geneva and were to include a delegation from the Houthis and representatives of the Yemen government, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Griffiths, who held three days of talks with a Yemeni government delegation, said he would meet in coming days with the Houthi leadership in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and in Muscat, Oman. Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who led the government delegation, accused the Houthis of being “totally irresponsible” and of “trying to sabotage the negotiations”.
“If they were sincere in reaching peace, they should have come, even if we were meeting in separate rooms,” al-Yamani said during a separate news conference in Geneva.
Houthi official Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the Saudi-led coalition of blocking his delegation from traveling to the peace talks. “We all know that the talks collapsed because of the obstruction of the national delegation from leaving and traveling to Geneva by the coalition forces,” he said in a speech broadcast on the group’s al-Masirah TV.
The Houthis also said they had required guarantees from the UN that their plane wouldn’t have to stop in Djibouti for inspection by the Saudi-led coalition. Last time it flew there the plane had been “sequestrated” there for months by the coalition.
Despite the unsuccessful peace talks, the UN Security Council, in the face of UK Ambassador Karen Pierce said that the UNSC stands behind their Special Envoy. “We appreciate the efforts he’s made. We share his disappointment at the fact that the talks did not go ahead as planned but it was good to hear that the consultations he did manage to hold yielded some positive outcomes,” she said.
She further called on all sides to take part in the process of attempting to establish peace. “But I do urge all sides including the Houthis to get behind the process that the Special Envoy is leading, to invest in confidence-building measures and engage in future consultations in good faith,” she urged.