Pompeo Green-Lights Continued US Support Of Saudi Coalition In Yemen

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that he has assured U.S. lawmakers the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is doing enough limit civilian casualties resulting from its airstrikes in Yemen.

“I certified to Congress yesterday that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Under the 2019 defense authorization bill, the Trump administration is required to certify that the Saudi coalition is following a plan to protect civilians and seek a negotiated end to its involvement in the Yemen war. The first certification was due Wednesday, and the administration must make similar notifications 180 and 360 days after the bill became law.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a war against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that has become one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises since it began in 2015. Coalition airstrikes — supported by U.S. aerial refueling, targeting intelligence and arms sales — have destroyed much of Yemen’s civilian infrastructure and killed thousands of noncombatants.

Calls for the U.S. to withdraw support for the coalition intensified in August, when one of its airstrikes hit a school bus and killed 40 children. The coalition expressed regret for the incident and said it would hold accountable those responsible, but some U.S. lawmakers disputed whether the coalition could be trusted to investigate itself.

Despite the outcry, the Trump administration has continued to support the coalition’s fight against the Houthis as part of a broader campaign to counter Iran and its proxies throughout the Middle East. In a letter to Congress earlier this year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote that withdrawing U.S. support would “embolden Iran to increase its support to the Houthis” and increase risk of a regional conflict. (RELATED: Mattis Asks Senate Not To Cut Off Support For Saudi War In Yemen)

Mattis backed Pompeo’s certification in a separate statement Wednesday, saying that the Saudi coalition was “making every effort” to minimize civilian casualties. The U.S. is working with a United Nations special envoy “to achieve a negotiated end to this fighting,” he added, according to the Associated Press.

U.N.-mediated peace talks broke down last week after Houthi representatives failed to attend meetings in Geneva. Heavy fighting resumed Wednesday with Saudi coalition airstrikes on Houthi positions in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah.

Washington will continue to support the U.N.-led peace talks and pressure the coalition to limit collateral damage, Pompeo said.

“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,” he said.

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