Pompeo, Mattis tell Congress Saudi coalition in Yemen trying hard not to...

Pompeo, Mattis tell Congress Saudi coalition in Yemen trying hard not to kill civilians

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are doing all they can to reduce the danger to civilians in their military offensive in Yemen.

The report to Congress was due today, ordered as part of the 2019 defense bill that passed Congress and was signed by President Trump earlier this year.

In a note to Congress, Pompeo said the two nations are “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure” as a result of their attacks in Yemen.

Yemen’s civil war began in early 2015 when Houthi rebels — a minority Shiite group from the north of the country, backed by Iran — drove out the Western-backed government and took over the capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia intervened almost immediately and now leads a coalition against the Houthi, advised and supported by the U.S., the United Kingdom, and other nations.

U.N. and humanitarian organizations have reported that 22.2 million Yemenis — out of a pre-war population of 28 million — need humanitarian assistance; that the war has wiped out more than 50 percent of Yemen’s nighttime electricity, critical for maintaining hospitals, water supply systems, and communications; that the fighting has left 8 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation, and produced the largest outbreak of cholera — 900,000 infected — in modern history.

An August airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition that killed at least 51 people, including 40 children, with bombs made in the United States, brought increased attention to the conflict. That attack also wounded 79 others, including 56 children, according to reports.

That attack prompted Spain, the fourth largest provider of military hardware to Saudi Arabia, to cancel the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs purchased by Riyadh.

Two international organizations have suggested that Saudi Arabia and its allies may be guilty of war crimes for its actions in Yemen.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, who along with Pompeo was required to report to Congress on Yemen, said he concurred with his colleague.

“I endorse and fully support Secretary Pompeo’s certification to the Congress that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from their military operations to end the civil war in Yemen,” Mattis said in a statement.

“The Saudi-led coalition’s commitment is reflected in their support for these UN-led efforts,” he said. “Alongside the Department of State, we are actively engaged with Mr. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy, to achieve a negotiated end to this fighting.”
Some members of Congress are seeking to curtail or end Pentagon support for the Saudi war effort, which includes U.S. military assistance for refueling and other measures.”

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