Washington Prepares to Sell Saudis More Weapons After US Bombs Used to Attack a Wedding Party in Yemen

May 12th, 2018 - by admin

Alex Emmons / The Intercept & Aric Toler / Bellingcat.com – 2018-05-12 17:23:57


US Moves Forward With Multibillion-Dollar “Smart Bomb” Sale to Saudi Arabia and UAE Despite Civilian Deaths in Yemen
Alex Emmons / The Intercept

(May 11, 2018) — Last month, warplanes belonging to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen repeatedly bombed a wedding party in the northern part of the country, killing more than 20 people, including the bride, and injuring dozens of others. In the days that followed, local media published a photograph of a bomb fragment with a serial number tying it to the US-based weapons manufacturer Raytheon. [See story below — EAW.]

Now the State Department is taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of similar weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three congressional aides, a State Department official, and two other people familiar with the sales told The Intercept.

The State Department has yet to announce the exact details and dollar value of the package, but it is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon, the same company that was involved in producing the weapons used in last month’s strike.

Reuters reported in November that Saudi Arabia had agreed to buy $7 billion in precision-guided weapons from US-based companies Raytheon and Boeing. Raytheon was “courting lawmakers and the State Department to allow it to sell 60,000 precision-guided munitions to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” according to the New York Times.

The State Department has briefed staff on the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees about the sale, but has yet to release details of the package to members of the committees, according to three aides who were not authorized to speak on the record. Once the chair and ranking member of the committees give the nod, the State Department can formally notify Congress about the sale, which could happen as early as next week.

Under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department reviews potential arms sales to make sure they align with US foreign policy goals and decides whether to issue export licenses. It then notifies Congress about sufficiently large sales, giving Congress a 30-day window to review and potentially block them.

The sale in question is a direct commercial transaction between Raytheon and the Gulf countries, which does not require the government to publicly announce the sale at the time of congressional notification. That means it will be up to senators to decide how many of the details to make public.

The sale is likely to face stiff opposition in the Senate, where members have grown increasingly frustrated with the US role in the devastating conflict in Yemen. Last June, the Senate almost rejected a similar sale of precision-guided weapons, but ultimately approved it by a narrow margin.

A State Department spokesperson and a Raytheon spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a military intervention in Yemen aimed at restoring the former Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Hadi was deposed after an Iran-linked rebel group commonly known as the Houthis overran the capital in 2014.

Rights groups have documented violations by all sides, but critics have singled out the Saudi blockade as the largest driving force behind the humanitarian crisis. The coalition’s blockade has left 18 million people — roughly two-thirds of the country’s population — in need of humanitarian assistance. The crisis has been exacerbated by coalition airstrikes, which have targeted food sources, water infrastructure, markets, and even schools and hospitals.

The munitions in the forthcoming sale are precisely the kind that rights groups have documented in these bombings. The US has been a silent partner to the intervention since the beginning, refueling planes, providing weapons, and targeting intelligence.

Kristine Beckerle, a Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that her organization has documented a number of strikes in which coalition planes used US-produced, precision-guided munitions to strike civilian targets.

“The Trump administration has consistently prioritized selling Saudi Arabia weapons over calling the coalition out for war crimes, despite US arms being used repeatedly in unlawful attacks — including the type of weapon at issue in this sale,” said Beckerle.

“Congress should see this as a chance to finally make clear that some members of the US government are no longer willing to reward Saudi abuses with more arms, nor risk US complicity, as the coalition continues to bomb weddings and homes to kill and maim Yemeni civilians.”

A spokesperson for the coalition told Reuters that it would investigate reports of civilian deaths in the wedding bombing, but human rights advocates have routinely criticized the standards of such investigations.

The coalition has used these weapons against civilians so many times that in December 2016, a month before Trump was inaugurated, Barack Obama held up a sale of precision-guided weapons over “systemic, endemic” problems with their targeting. That sale went forward after Trump was inaugurated.

American-Made Bomb Used in
Deadly Airstrike on Yemen Wedding

Aric Toler / Bellingcat.com

Terrified Boy Clutches Body of Dead Father After Saudi Air Strikes and US Weapons Kill at Least 20 at Yemen Wedding

(April 27, 2018) — On April 22, the Saudi-led coalition carried out multiple airstrikes on a wedding in Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate, with reports of at least 33 dead, including the bride. Reportedly, the majority of casualties were women and children. Survivors of the attack described how the jets continued to circle the bombing site after the attack, preventing first responders from reaching the victims.

Dozens of images and videos [note: links lead to extremely graphic content] have been published in local and social media showing the victims of the airstrike, both at the wedding and a hospital in Hajja.

Weapons Identification
The following day, April 23, local media in Yemen published a photograph of weapon remnants taken by the Ansar Allah Media Center, which has extensively documented the airstrike through multiple social media platforms, including Telegram, Facebook, and Twitter. This photograph, along with others from the scene, were reportedly passed to the Yemen Press Agency (Saba News Agency) from the media center.

The photograph shows the remains of the wing assembly of an American-made GBU-12 Paveway II guided bomb. The caption at the bottom of the image reads:
The massacre of the enemies on the wedding party in village called Al raqa in Bani qais administration which resulted of 33 martyrs and 55 injured which an estimate that is not final.

Photo enlargement: Scroll to view

We can trace back this exact wing assembly part to an online database (thanks to @obretix), with the serial number (1325. . . ), SKU (96214 . . . 872128. . . ) matching up with the wing assembly part used for the GBU-12 Paveway II guided bomb. This bomb part was manufactured by the American defense firm Raytheon.

Photo enlargement: Scroll to view

Previous Use of This Bomb in Yemen
Assuming the Ansar Allah Media Center photograph is from the recent strike — and there is no evidence indicating that it is not — this is far from the first time that the GBU-12 Paveway II guided bomb, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and provided to the Saudi Arabian military by the United States, has been used to target Yemeni civilians.

In September 2016, Saudi-led coalition forces bombed a water drilling site in the Sanaa governorate using the same GBU-12 Paveway II bomb.

Human Rights Watch published a photograph from the scene of the attack showing the same wing assembly label that was found nearly two years later at the bombed wedding site. Below, we compare the September 2016 bomb (bottom) and April 2018 bomb (top).

Photo enlargement: Scroll to view

Just one month after this attack against the water drilling site, Saudi-led forces used the Raytheon-made bomb, as reported by The Intercept, in a deadly strike against a funeral in Sanaa, killing over 140 people.

While the label is not the same as in the two previously-mentioned examples, the label on the recovered remnant indicates that the fin was created for a MK-82 bomb manufactured by Raytheon (as indicated by the 96214 code), which points to the GBU-12 Paveway II bomb. Human Rights Watch has confirmed this identification.

Bellingcat’s research for this publication was supported by PAX for Peace.

Aric Toler has written with Bellingcat since 2015 and currently leads the Eurasia/Eastern Europe team. Along with his research into topics in the former Soviet Union, he organizes and leads Bellingcat’s Russian-language workshops for journalists and researchers. He graduated with an MA in Slavic Languages & Literatures from the University of Kansas in 2013, focusing on Russian literature and intellectual history.
After graduation, he worked for two years as an intelligence specialist in the private sector. If you have any questions, or have a story idea related to eastern Europe or Eurasia, you can contact him at arictoler@bellingcat.com

Bellingcat’s research for this publication was supported by PAX for Peace.

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