US Navy ships operating in the waterways of the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Red Sea have been attacked a number of times within a week. The missiles fell harmlessly into water, but they were enough of a provocation to make the American ships fire back at least once with Tomahawk missiles, destroying mobile radar positions in the first shots fired by the US in the Yemen war. The United States blames the Houthi rebels for attacks. The accusations are denied but whether or not there is any validity to that denial, this particular military engagement has been ramped up threatening to drag the US straight into a protracted and escalating conflict.
The United States has kept warships in the region to guard a sea lane through which four million barrels of oil pass each day. Now it finds itself facing a dangerous situation in a narrow stretch of water where even small incidents run the risk of inciting a broader conflict. Iran said it was sending two warships to the strait, presumably to support the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group in Yemen.
The Yemen’s conflict sparked in 2014, when Shiite rebels from the north, the Houthis, seized the capital, Sana, and sent the government into exile. Today they control much of the country’s north and west, along with army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi Arabia has portrayed the Houthis as an Iranian proxy force and has said that it needed to intervene in Yemen to protect Saudi national security by preventing the rise of a belligerent militia on its southern border. An international military coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign in March 2015 in an effort to restore the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the exiled president. The campaign was immediately supported by the Obama administration in part because it needed Saudi support for the nuclear deal with Iran.
The war is largely overshadowed by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, but it’s serious enough to get entangled a number of world actors, including the United States. Washington had been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalitionwhile selling weapons and providing intelligence to the Gulf monarchy. It has begun to withdraw its support in recent weeks over the civilian casualties from the air campaign. On October 8, a 500lb laser-guided US-made bomb was dropped on a funeral procession by the Saudi-led coalition to kill more than 140 people, mostly civilians, and wounded more than 525 people. According to Human Rights Watch the incident was “an apparent war crime”.
This May the US formally acknowledged it had boots on the ground, mainly Special Operations Forces (SOF), in Yemen.
All in all, the US-supported Saudi war has been a disaster.
In the more than 3,000 strikes since the conflict began, civilian sites have been routinely in the line of fire. The humanitarian impact of the bombing campaign is staggering—no civilian is left unaffected. Since the Saudi air assault began in 2015, civilian casualties have been averaging 13 per day. More than 6,800 people have been killed. Estimated civilian deaths are about 4,000, with many more injured and still more homeless. Both rebels and the regime have been reported to commit atrocities, though most of the dead are civilians and most have been killed by Saudi-led Air Force. Around 3 million people have been displaced.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East before the start of this conflict, is now on the brink of starvation with almost 14.4 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. More than 19 million people do not have access to clean water. Last year, there were 101 attacks on schools and hospitals. The latest news is a cholera outbreak. A year and a half of bombing — along with the deaths of thousands of Yemeni civilians — has stoked anger in Yemen not only toward the Saudis, but also toward their patrons in Washington.
Since President Obama took office, the US has sold Saudi Arabia $115bn worth of arms in 42 separate deals, more than any U.S. administration in the history of the US-Saudi relationship.
The sale of $1.15bn more has been approved recently by the State Department, includingair-to-ground munitions as well as tanks, to make America responsible for human suffering in the impoverished country.
The majority of this equipment is still in the pipeline, and could tie the United States to the Saudi military for years to come.
State Department lawyers had warned that the US could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen. The deal went through anyway.
US partners are almost certainly committing war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, a congressman argued in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
According to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), “The frequency and scale of the civilian killings by the Saudi military coalition make it difficult to come to any conclusion other than that war crimes have been and are continuing to be committed in Yemen.” “The US needs to cease immediately the aiding and abetting of the coalition,” the lawmaker wrote.
The American military presence in Yemen is illegal. Neither the Yemeni government, not the United Nations has asked America to take action. The President’s decision to intervene militarily in one more conflicts is a brazen violation of international and domestic law. According to the UN Charter, the use of force is legitimate only if undertaken in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed a few days after 9/11 allows the President to use force against groups and countries that had supported the attacks. Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya – the countries where SOF operations are intensive – are not on the list.
The US has supported the military campaign notorious for violations of human rights and war crimes. It makes Washington responsible and tarnishes its image in the world. It also puts America into an awkward position when it tries to blast Russia for its activities in Syria. The recent events show how rapidly the United States can go from supporting a party to the conflict to becoming a belligerent in a chaotic civil war being waged so far away from the continental USA.
True, this is a relatively small involvement but, as history teaches, small involvements lead to entanglements into protracted conflicts. America is on the brink of getting involved in another war but the issue does not seem to bother the presidential candidates. It has not been in focus during the two presidential debates. Yemen is kept under the radar screen in the United States. Instead, the administration and American media raise ballyhoo attacking Russia for alleged “crimes” committed in Aleppo while turning a deaf ear to the calls to stop promotion of war crimes in Yemen.