- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly certified continued U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen after some staffers warned against risking a $2 billion arms deal.
- Many of State’s Yemen specialists objected to the certification on humanitarian grounds, but Pompeo overruled them in favor of officials who said withdrawing support would risk the arms deal between coalition nations and U.S. defense contractors.
- The move comes as the Trump administration is facing intense criticism for its support of the coalition, which has been accused of war crimes in its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo authorized continued military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen after staffers warned that not doing so could risk a $2 billion arms deal between Washington’s Gulf allies and major U.S. defense contractors.
Under the 2019 defense authorization bill, Pompeo is required to certify every six months that the Saudi coalition is following a plan to protect civilians and seek a negotiated end to its involvement in the Yemen war.
Leading up to the certification deadline, State Department specialists on the Yemen conflict recommended that Pompeo decline to certify the coalition due to its lack of progress on reducing civilian casualties, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. WSJ’s report cited portions of a classified memo and people familiar with the debate.
Pompeo reportedly overruled the military and regional specialists in favor of his legislative affairs team, which argued that withdrawing support for the coalition would disrupt a plan to sell 120,000 precision-guided missiles (PGM) to close U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Raytheon — the largest maker of the PGMs in the U.S. — and Boeing have been working on an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE since late last year.
Pompeo formally approved certification on Sept. 12, telling Congress the coalition was “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.” The decision gave the green light to continued military support for the coalition, which consists of aerial refueling, targeting intelligence and arms sales. (RELATED: Pompeo Approves Continued US Military Support For Saudi Coalition In Yemen)
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request by The Daily Caller News Foundation for a comment on Pompeo’s decision to back continued support for the coalition. Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told WSJ that she wouldn’t comment on “the deliberative process or allegedly leaked documents.”
“While our Saudi and Emirati partners are making progress, we are continuing discussions with them on additional steps they can take to address the humanitarian situation, advance the political track in cooperation with the U.N. Special Envoy’s efforts, and ensure that their military campaign complies with the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law,” Nauert said in a statement, according to WSJ.
The Saudi-led coalition began its campaign in Yemen in 2015, after Iran-aligned Houthi rebels overthrew the internationally recognized government in Sanaa. Since then, the war has precipitated what the U.N. calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on international aid and more than 8 million at risk of starvation.
U.S support for the Saudi coalition has come under increasing criticism from both international human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers, who accuse Washington of enabling coalition airstrikes on Yemeni civilians. At least 16,000 civilians have been killed or injured in Yemen over the past three years, most of them due to coalition airstrikes, according to a U.N. report released in August.
The report stated that U.N. observers “have reasonable grounds to believe” the coalition’s airstrikes, as well as its sea and air blockade of Yemeni ports, amount to war crimes.
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.
Other Yemen observes dispute that U.S. interests are well-served by intervening in a proxy war between Gulf Arab states and Iran. Foreign policy scholar Daniel Larison contends that supporting the coalition against the Houthis has undermined Washington’s primary security interest in the Arabian peninsula — fighting Sunni jihadi groups.
“Our security is not threatened by the coalition’s enemies in Yemen. The only people in the country that pose any threat to the U.S. are the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members that the coalition has been buying off and recruiting,” Larison wrote Thursday in The American Conservative. “The coalition’s war is not making the U.S. any safer, and it is actively harming what few interests we do have in the area.”
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