Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the Devastating War in Yemen

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the Devastating War in Yemen

Article excerpt

Since March 25, Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members-with the exception of Oman-have been carrying out an intense military campaign in Yemen. The stated goal of the intervention is to push back the advance of the Houthi rebels, a group the coalition claims is a tool of the Iranian regime.

While Arab Gulf officials have defended the war effort (see p. 46), many outside observers have expressed concern about the humanitarian consequences of the campaign. Others have questioned the efficacy of the coalition's tactics.

Speaking via Skype at an Oct. 20 event co-hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade and the Security Assistance Monitor, Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's response and resilience team program coordinator, outlined the current reality in Yemen.

"The situation on the ground is absolutely catastrophic," said Riebl, who recently returned from a three-month assignment in Yemen. More than 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, he noted, as both food and water are scarce. More than 1.5 million Yemenis are internally displaced, while another 100,000 are believed to have sought refuge in Djibouti and Somaliland.

Riebl outlined three causes of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen: ground fighting, airstrikes and the Saudi-imposed blockade.

The ground fighting has been heavily concentrated in the southern cities of Aden and Taiz, he said, noting that the humanitarian impact outside of these areas is minimal.

The air campaign has been expansive, Riebl continued, and has affected all of Yemen's 22 governorates. No official documentation on airstrikes is being kept, but Riebl estimates that 100 to 150 strikes are carried out every day. These strikes have not been surgical, he stated, and have resulted in the destruction of hospitals, schools, water and power plants, roads, ports and refugee camps.

According to Riebl, the blockade of Yemen is the most significant factor contributing to the dire humanitarian situation. Yemen imports 80 percent of its food and 90 percent of its fuel, he pointed out, and the blockade has effectively cut offthese resources to many parts of the country.

At a Sept. 17 event hosted by Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Yemeni-American lawyer Lara Aryani argued that the coalition is committing war crimes in Yemen. She pointed to the example of Saudi Arabia declaring the entirety of Sa'ada, the northwest region that is the stronghold of the Houthis, a military target. In her view, this was a blatant and open admission that the Saudis view civilians in this conflict as legitimate targets. She also was not shy about putting significant blame on the U.S. for its complicity in the ongoing bombing campaign and its failure to push for a political settlement.

At the Oct. 20 event, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, also was critical of the U.S. role in the conflict, noting that Washington has provided ample weaponry, intelligence and logistical support to the war effort.

Since assuming office in 2009, the Obama administration, under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, has agreed to send $195 billion in military equipment to its allies, according to the Security Assistance Monitor. This is the highest amount approved by any administration since World War II.

More than half of these arms have gone to governments in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, Hartung noted, with Saudi Arabia purchasing $49 billion worth, more than any other country. …

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