Ending Support for the War in Yemen
Until last month, the main reason for the U.S. ending its support for the Saudi-UAE-led war against the Houthis in Yemen was the humanitarian catastrophe it was causing. Since the Saudis began bombing Yemen in March 2015, more than 50,000 people have died, mostly from U.S.-supplied combat weapons; 14 million people—or about half the entire Yemeni population—are on the brink of famine; 85,000 children under the age of five have already died from hunger and disease; each week there are 10,000 new cases of cholera; and 22.2 million people—about three-quarters of the population—are in need of humanitarian aid. In the summer of 2018, the Saudi coalition even bombed a school in the northern town of Dahyan, killing 54 people, including 44 children, and wounding dozens more.
Seeing these horrible statistics, the Republican-controlled Senate, over strong opposition from the Trump administration, has twice taken the unprecedented steps of voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, first in December and then again this month. The House, controlled by the Republicans in December, refused to take up the measure. But now that the Democrats control the lower chamber, it is expected that it will vote overwhelmingly to support the Senate bill. It is doubtful that President Trump, who unabashedly supports the current regime in Saudi Arabia, will approve such a measure when it arrives on his desk.
Not surprisingly, many members of the Trump administration and some in Congress believe that the U.S. should maintain its support for the Saudis because their intervention in Yemen aids our national security by preventing the Houthis, who receive aid from Iran, from gaining control of Yemen, and thus increasing Iran’s influence in the region. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), called the recent Senate vote, “inappropriate and counter-productive.”
While there is no doubt that the humanitarian devastation that has already happened is reason enough to end our support for the Saudi-led coalition, its opponents in Congress and the Administration must also heed two recent reports, which demonstrate convincingly that in addition to using U.S. weapons to inflict incredible harm on civilians, much of the U.S.-supplied equipment is falling into the hands of unaccountable militias, many of whom are sworn enemies of the U.S., and to the Houthis themselves.
On February 5, 2019, CNN reported that “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons, some very sophisticated, to Al Qaeda linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and other factions engaging in war in Yemen.” According to CNN, the Saudis did this even though such practices violate the agreements that they have made with the U.S., which prohibit them from transferring U.S. weapons to such groups. These weapons include not just guns but anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles including mine-resistant armored vehicles (MRAPs), heat-seeking lasers and artillery, or, as President Trump calls them, “beautiful military equipment.”
Not only do these groups inflict unspeakable damage on innocent civilians with these weapons, but we now know many of these weapons have also fallen into the hands of the Houthis, who are the enemies of the coalition. As a result, the Houthis can not only exploit their vulnerabilities, but also reverse engineer these weapons, making their weapons more lethal, and most disturbingly pass on these technologies to Iran itself, which the Trump administration considers the major threat to American interests in the region.
The CNN report was followed a day later by one from Amnesty International. It too demonstrated convincingly that the UAE, Saudi Arabia's primary partner in this conflict, is "recklessly arming militias in Yemen with advanced weaponry supplied by the U.S. and other states." According to Amnesty, the UAE is actually transferring such items as armored vehicles, mortars, and machine guns to several unaccountable groups, many of whom are accused of war crimes.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s response to these reports has been to state that the U.S. has not authorized the Saudis nor the UAE to make such transfers and therefore cannot comment on any pending investigation. How did they not know? Willful ignorance of this magnitude must be called out.
These humanitarian and strategic concerns make it clear that the U.S. must immediately end all its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and end all its arms sales to the Saudis and UAE, as several of our NATO allies, including Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands have already done. The longer we wait, the more our values and security will be compromised, and the more lives of innocent Yemenis will be lost. And to what ends?
Dr. Lawrence J. Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as assistant secretary of defense from 1981 through 1985.