Senate Amendment Would Block US Bomb Sales for Saudi War

June 12th, 2016 - by admin & Defense News & Agence France-Presse – 2016-06-12 02:41:48

Senate Amendment Would Block US Bomb Sales for Saudi War

Senate Amendment Would Block US Bomb Sales for Saudi War
Jason Ditz /

(June 10, 2016) — A bipartisan amendment at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is seeking to halt all sales of bombs and other air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia until the Kingdom promises to take precautions to limit the number of civilians they kill.

The amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), also calls on the Saudis to agree to combat al-Qaeda as part of the Yemen War, which they launched in March of 2015 in an attempt to reinstall former President Hadi.

Sen. Murphy noted that the US involvement in the Saudi War is damaging their credibility internationally, and says that “every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States” so long as the US continues to take part.

At the same time, Murphy conceded that there likely would not be enough support to stop US involvement in the war outright, but hoped that the amendment would see Congress exercises at least some oversight on the conflict.

Senators Seek Halt to US Bomb Sales for Saudi War
Joe Gould / Defense News & Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON (June 10, 2016) — Two senators on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee are pressing ahead with their fight to limit American bomb sales to Saudi Arabia in protest for Riyadh’s conduct of its military intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would bar US sales of air-to-ground munitions until Saudi Arabia promises to take precautions to limit civilian casualties and combat terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda alongside Houthi rebels.

In a Senate floor speech Wednesday, Murphy said the US involvement in the aerial war, which includes targeting intelligence and air-to-air refueling sorties, contravenes US national security interests and damages Washington’s credibility in the region. The US is complicit, he said, in a humanitarian crisis that has fueled the growth of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“If you talk to Yemeni-Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, it’s a US bombing campaign,” Murphy said. “Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States. We accept that as a consequence of our participation.”

Murphy acknowledged he likely lacks the support to halt US involvement and said he is instead pressing Congress to exercise more oversight.

Murphy and Paul, who have sponsored legislation on this issue before, are continuing their push even as a ceasefire has been in place in Yemen since April and UN-led peace talks between government loyalists and Houthi rebels are ongoing.

The Saudi-led coalition comprises five Gulf Arab states and Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. America’s involvement comes amid growing friction between the US and its important Middle Eastern ally over the US-Iran nuclear deal. Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily.

Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview this week defended Washington’s stance, detailing the imminent threat that sparked Saudi Arabia’s actions. Asked about Yemen’s civilian casualties, he laid blame with the Houthis.

“There have been a lot of civilian casualties, and clearly civilian casualties are a concern,” Kerry told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “I think the Saudis have expressed in the last week their desire to make certain that they’re acting responsibly and not endangering civilians.”

The Houthis, Kerry said, “have a pretty good practiced way of putting civilians into danger.”

According to a State Department official, Saudi Arabia, under pressure from the US, has committed to conduct an inquiry into civilian deaths and promised a “clear, full, and objective” report on past incidents.

Saudi Arabia has since created an investigative body to evaluate military targeting, ensure the protection of civilians, and investigate incidents of civilian harm during the conflict in Yemen, the official said.

The US is not alone in placing pressure on Saudi Arabia. In late February, the European Parliament passed a non-binding arms embargo meant to signal alarm over the humanitarian crisis.

The UN has concluded there have been more than 6,000 killed since Saudia Arabia intervened in March 2015, half of them civilian. The UN found that at least 785 children have been killed and 1,168 injured in Yemen during fighting in 2015, and it attributed 60 percent of the casualties to the Saudi-led coalition.

However, coalition officials disputed the figure and Riyadh successfully pressed to have itself removed from the UN blacklist, pending a review.

“The report is imbalanced and does not rely on credible statistics, nor does it serve the Yemeni people,” coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri told the official Saudi Press Agency.

“It misleads the public with incorrect numbers and mostly relies on information from sources associated with the Huthi militia and the deposed [former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah] Saleh.”

Twenty nongovernmental organizations this week urged the United Nations to return Saudi Arabia to its “list of shame” for child casualties in Yemen.

“It appears that political power and diplomatic clout have been allowed to trump the UN’s duty to expose those responsible for the killing and maiming of more than a thousand of Yemen’s children,” Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said in a statement. “The decision to retract its findings is a moral failure and goes against everything the UN is meant to stand for.”

The State Department has acknowledged that the war has allowed Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its presence. In May, US troops were quietly deployed to help uproot the terrorist group from a major port city it controlled, Al Mukalla.

The US in November cleared a sale of more than 10,000 advanced air-to-ground munitions for Saudi Arabia, a week after key allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council raised concerns over dwindling supplies of weapons. The value of the sale — which includes tens of thousands of laser-guided bombs — is $1.29 billion, with a supplier to be determined by competitive bid.

Reviewing the site of a March 15 attack of a crowded market in Mastaba, Human Rights Watch concluded that US-supplied bombs killed 97 civilians, including 25 children, as well as 10 Houthi fighters.

It found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a Joint Direct Attack Munition satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied.

Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about Saudi air strikes on urban areas in Yemen and accused the coalition of deliberately targeting civilians with cluster bombs, which would constitute a war crime.

Last month, the magazine Foreign Policy reported that the White House had frozen shipments of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia over concerns that its Gulf ally was using the weapons in areas where civilians were present.

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