Saudis Use Increased US Aid to Bomb Civilians and Humanitarian Relief Targets in Yemen
August 19, 2015
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & W.J. Hennigan, Laura King and Zaid Al-Alayaa / The Los Angeles Times & Reuters
A humanitarian catastrophe that has killed thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation, the Saudi war against Yemen, and blockade of the country has been regularly criticized by human rights groups. The US has supplied munitions and in-air refueling of bombers. Yemen has been under naval blockade since March, and traditionally imports 90% of its food by sea. US-backed Saudi warplanes have attacked and destroyed much of the primary humanitarian aid port in Hodeida.
US Sends More Advisers, Munitions for Saudi War on Yemen
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(August 18, 2015) -- A humanitarian catastrophe that has killed thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation, the Saudi war against Yemen, and blockade of the country has been regularly criticized by human rights groups. The US has endorsed the war, but its involvement doesn’t get a lot of publicity.
Still, US involvement is growing, with the number of Pentagon advisers sent to Saudi Arabia more than doubled to 45 now, and regular shipments of munitions and in-air refueling of bombers serving as the main US contributions to the war effort against Yemeni Shi’ites.
Officials say that the advisory role includes helping the Saudis pick out which targets to attack, a particularly damning admission given the enormous civilian death toll from the Saudi airstrikes against residential areas nationwide.
The Pentagon is insisting, by way of an explanation, that they aren’t "responsible" for any specific strikes that happen in Yemen, so even though they provided the bombs, fueled the planes, and picked the targets, those deaths are somehow not their fault.
US Boosts Support Role in Saudi-led Airstrikes on Yemen
W.J. Hennigan, Laura King and Zaid Al-Alayaa / The Los Angeles Times
YEMEN (August 17, 2015) -- A Saudi-led military offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen has scored major gains this month, including recapturing the strategic port of Aden and the country's largest air base, after the Pentagon more than doubled the number of American advisors to provide enhanced intelligence for airstrikes.
The role of about 45 US advisors, up from 20, at joint military operations centers in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has been vastly overshadowed by the far larger US-led air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. So has Yemen's toll of civilian casualties and refugees.
The turmoil has benefited Al Qaeda's powerful local franchise, which remains resilient and continues to seize territory. Fighters loyal to the extremist group captured three towns in southern Yemen this month, adding to their control of Mukalla, a provincial capital and port where they patrol in looted military vehicles and run roadside checkpoints.
Fighters opposing Houthi rebels shout slogans as they walk in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on April 8 as clashes continue to rage in the embattled city between Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to fugitive Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
But on Wednesday, five men identified by Yemeni officials as Al Qaeda fighters were killed in a presumed US drone strike in eastern Yemen, indicating a continued US focus on the group.
In a multi-sided civil war, the Saudi-led coalition struggled for months to retake ground from the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim group. The rebels had forced the US-backed president into exile in the spring and quickly swept across the Arab world's poorest nation.
The tide appeared to shift after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates landed about 3,000 troops and armored vehicles in Aden, Yemen's second-largest city and most important port, on Aug. 2, the first major use of coalition ground forces in the war.
Together with pro-government tribal fighters, they pushed the Houthis out and established a crucial beachhead. Reportedly equipped with French tanks, Russian fighting vehicles and American mine-resistant troop carriers, they pressed 40 miles north and evicted the Houthis from the air base at Al Anad.
Until it was pulled out in March as the Houthis advanced, a US special operations team was deployed at Al Anad to gather intelligence and launch drone strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which the Obama administration considers the terrorist network's most dangerous branch because of its repeated attempts to attack American targets.
US officials said last week they will not send the counter-terrorism team back to Yemen until the ousted president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, is restored to power in Sana.
Pro-government forces now have regained control of five southern provinces, the latest of them recaptured Saturday, and on Sunday pushed into Taizz, a key crossroads city about 160 miles south of Sana, the rebel-held capital. But Houthis remain firmly entrenched in Sana and in traditional strongholds farther north.
The Obama administration is providing intelligence, munitions and midair refueling to coalition aircraft, and US warships have helped enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea intended to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis. The coalition includes five Persian Gulf Arab states plus Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan.
Human rights groups say the sea cordon also cuts Yemen off from imports of basic commodities, including food and fuel, adding to the nation's miseries. Overall, fighting since March has killed nearly 4,300 people, nearly half of them civilians, and forced more than 1.3 million others to flee their homes, according to United Nations agencies.
Humanitarian groups warn that even with aid beginning to arrive at the port in Aden, medical supplies and fuel remain in short supply. Destruction of key infrastructure has left millions without access to clean water or electricity, and a quarter of the country's health facilities are shuttered, according to the World Health Organization. Outbreaks of dengue fever, malaria and other treatable ailments have become deadly.
"The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic," Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said after a recent three-day visit to the battered country. "And it is getting worse by the day."
The White House has made it clear it will provide strong support for the Saudis and their Sunni Arab coalition. The US and its allies regard the Houthis as proxies of Iran and accuse Tehran of providing them with weapons, which Iran and the Houthis deny.
At the same time, the White House is relying on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to support President Obama's landmark nuclear agreement with Iran. Despite public misgivings, none has expressed opposition to the deal.
Human rights groups say airstrikes that were based on faulty intelligence, or that simply went astray, have killed hundreds of civilians since Saudi warplanes began bombing March 26. Human Rights Watch recently released a shaky video of airstrikes on July 24 hitting apartment buildings that it said housed power plant workers.
At least 65 people, including 10 children, were killed in the attack, said Belkis Wille, a Human Rights Watch investigator who visited the scene less than 48 hours after the strike.
"There was no question this was a coalition airstrike," she said in an telephone interview. "That hasn't been disputed."
Pentagon officials say 45 US military and intelligence personnel help the coalition evaluate potential bombing targets and calculate blast areas of missiles and bombs in an effort to prevent civilian casualties. US spy satellites and reconnaissance drones relay live video before and after the bombs hit.
But Pentagon officials stressed the team is not responsible for individual operations.
"We are confident that the intelligence and advice we pass on to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members is sound, giving them the best options for military success consistent with international norms and mitigating the potential for civilian casualties," said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a US military spokesman in Bahrain. "The final decisions on the conduct of operations in the campaign are made by the members of the Saudi-led coalition, not the United States."
The coalition maintains that it primarily uses satellite- and laser-guided munitions, but Human Rights Watch says unguided bombs and US-supplied cluster munitions have been dropped in densely populated urban areas.
Witnesses and officials have reported devastation of neighborhoods near rebel-held ammunition dumps, with some airstrikes setting off secondary explosions that wreck homes and shops. Some civilians have come under fire because they live close to prominent Houthi loyalists.
Ahmed Qamri, a father of two young boys, said he believes five airstrikes targeted his neighborhood in Sana last month because it is home to a former military commander who is the nephew of deposed Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied himself with the Houthis.
"The first explosion woke us," Qamri said. "Nothing in my house remained in its place; all my windows broke. My 4-year-old was screaming, 'Dad, what should I do?'"
The family survived by taking shelter in an inner room, he said.
Times staff writers Hennigan and King reported from Washington and Cairo, respectively. Special correspondent Al-Alayaa reported from Sana.
Saudi Warplanes Destroy Main North Yemen Aid Port in Hodeida
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(August 18, 2015) -- Adding to the humanitarian calamity across Yemen, but felt most strongly in the north of the country, Saudi warplanes today attacked and destroyed much of the primary humanitarian aid port in Hodeida, the key Red Sea port through which aid to the north arrives.
Yemen has been under naval blockade since March, and traditionally imports 90% of its food by sea. The blockade has limited this to a handful of Saudi-approved aid ships, mostly run by the UN. Even this is going to be impossible in Hodeida now, with the destruction of cranes and warehouses at the port.
Hodeida was the primary port for aid to the capital city of Sanaa, and had become materially the only route for aid into that area after the Saudis destroyed the Sanaa airport to prevent aid flights. With pro-Saudi forces controlling the southern coast, this attack may effectively be part of an effort to "starve out" the rest of the country.
Saudis are denying that a port was hit at all, insisting Hodeida was a "naval base" with anti-ship weapons. Human rights groups, however, confirmed that the port was a main route for shipments into the north, and condemned the Saudi attack as the "last straw" in a series of Saudi actions against aid shipments.
Saudi-led Warplanes Hit Yemeni Port,
Aid Group Sounds Alarm
(Aug 18, 2015) -- Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition hit Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeida on Tuesday, and officials there said the raids destroyed cranes and warehouses in the main entry point for aid supplies to the north of the country.
Hodeida, controlled by Iranian-allied Houthi forces, has become a focal point of efforts to resupply the impoverished Arab state, battered by five months of war that has killed over 4,300 people.
"Fighting, critical fuel shortages and restrictions on importing relief supplies have already helped to create one of the world's worst humanitarian crises," said Edward Santiago of aid group Save the Children. "The bombing of Hodeida port is the final straw . . . The impact of these latest air strikes will be felt most strongly by innocent children and families," he added.
Officials said the raids destroyed the port's four cranes and also hit warehouses, bringing work to a halt. There was no information on what was in the warehouses.
Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the strikes on Hodeida were directed not at the civilian port but at a base where the Houthis had deployed anti-ship weapons. "There is a naval base inside the port. This is where we struck last night," he said.
He said the coalition had on Tuesday given permission to three aid vessels to travel to Hodeida's civilian port for humanitarian aid shipments.
Aid groups have previously complained that a coalition naval blockade has stopped relief supplies entering Yemen. The coalition, in which the United Arab Emirates also plays a big military role, has accused the Houthis of commandeering aid shipments for war use.
The Houthis seized Sanaa last September in what they called a revolution against a corrupt government, then took over much of the country.
The Saudi-backed government fled to the southern port of Aden, then escaped to Riyadh in March. Gulf Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict to try to restore it to power.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a report that the Saudi-led air campaign had left a "bloody trail of civilian death" which could amount to war crimes. It said it had investigated eight coalition air strikes in Yemen that killed 141 civilians, including children.
Evidence revealed a pattern of strikes against populated areas, in most of which no military target could be located nearby, it said.
The coalition has denied targeting civilians.
"I don't think they have a very accurate report. They never contacted us to ask any clarification for any situation," said Asseri, adding that some of the strikes Amnesty attributed to the coalition were in fact Houthi missiles.
Amnesty said it had investigated 30 attacks in Aden and Taiz by the Houthis that killed 68 civilians and also may amount to war crimes.
Loyalist forces, backed by Gulf Arab planes, weapons and training, have been on the offensive since breaking out of Aden last month, claiming a string of gains against the Houthis.
Besides advancing from the south, coalition-backed forces are also fighting the Houthi forces on a second front around Marib, northeast of Sanaa, bringing the combat ever closer to the Houthis' traditional strongholds in Yemen's north.
Saudi Arabia fears the Houthis are acting as a proxy for its main regional foe Iran to encircle Gulf states and undermine their security, something both Iran and the Houthis deny.
Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari and Noah Browning, Writing by Angus McDowall in Riyadh, Editing by Mark Trevelyan
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