US Cuts Saudi Arms Sales Over Killing of Yemen's Civilians
December 14, 2016
AntiWar.com & Reuters & BBC News
The US has said it will limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid concerns over civilian casualties linked to air strikes in Yemen. Precision-guided weapons will no longer be delivered, a Pentagon official said. In October, more than 140 people were killed in a strike on a funeral in the country.
US Trims Some Arms Sales to
Saudi Arabia Over Yemen Civilian Deaths
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 13, 2016) -- In a surprise move, the United States has announced that they will halt sales certain munitions sales to Saudi Arabia today, citing growing concerns about "flaws" in Saudi targeting in the Yemen war, which is leading to a huge number of civilian deaths.
Officials quoted in Reuters described a "systemic, endemic" problem with Saudi targeting in the war, and decided that they could no longer sell certain "air-dropped" weaponry to the Saudis. The shift is surprising, as US officials have repeatedly claimed support for the Saudi war, but it isn't necessarily a huge shift.
The US sells an enormous amount of arms to Saudi Arabia yearly, and officials aren't providing clarity on just how big this "certain" sales halt amounts to. The expectation is that it is minor. Perhaps more problematic, the US is going to continue to provide mid-air refueling for the Saudi warplanes to continue the objectionable bombing campaign.
US officials say they wanted to make it clear that sales to Saudi Arabia weren't a "blank check," though in practice the big concern was likely legal liability, as a growing number of groups have warned the US may face legal repercussions for participating so heavily in Saudi war crimes.
Halting even a few sales may provide some legal cover for administration lawyers to argue they acted to limit Saudi war crimes, but at the end of the day, US warplanes are still refueling US-made warplanes dropping US-made bombs on civilians.
US To Halt Some Arms Sales to Saudi,
Citing Civilian Deaths in Yemen Campaign
Phil Stewart and Warren Strobel / Reuters
WASHINGTON (December 13, 2016) -- The United States has decided to limit military support to Saudi Arabia's campaign in Yemen because of concerns over widespread civilian casualties and will halt a planned arms sale to the kingdom, US officials told Reuters.
The United States will also revamp future training of the kingdom's air force to focus on improving Saudi targeting practices, a persistent source of concern for Washington.
The decision reflects deep frustration within President Barack Obama's government over Saudi Arabia's practices in Yemen's 20-month-old war, which has killed more than 10,000 people and sparked humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Middle East.
It could also further strain ties between Washington and Riyadh in the remaining days of Obama's administration and put the question of Saudi-US relations squarely before the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20.
Still, the decision was not the cut-off in support that Saudi Arabia's biggest critics had hoped for and much of the US military relationship will remain intact.
For example, the United States will keep refueling Saudi-led coalition aircraft involved in the campaign, and it is not cutting off all arms sales to the kingdom. And, in a nod to Saudi Arabia's security concerns, Washington will share more intelligence on the Saudi border with Yemen.
The kingdom has been subject to cross-border attacks by the Iran-allied Houthi movement. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen's civil war in March 2015 and has launched thousands of air strikes against the Houthis.
Rights groups say Saudi-led coalition attacks on clinics, schools, markets and factories may amount to war crimes. Saudi Arabia has either denied the attacks or cited the presence of fighters in the targeted areas and has said it has tried to reduce civilian casualties.
"I think it's a signal but too weak of a signal," said William Hartung of the US-based Center for International Policy, responding to the US decision. "As long as they're going to refueling aircraft which is central to the bombing campaign, it's hard to see that they're using all the leverage they have," said Hartung, who authored a report earlier this year on US arms offers to Saudi Arabia during Obama's tenure.
An Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "systemic, endemic" problems in Saudi Arabia's targeting drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale involving precision-guided munitions. "We've decided not to move forward with some foreign military sales cases for air-dropped munitions, PGMs (precision-guided munitions)," the official said.
"That's obviously a direct reflection of the concerns that we have about Saudi strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties," the official said. A second official confirmed the decision to suspend the sale of certain weaponry.
The officials declined to offer details. But a specific case put on hold appeared to involve the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of guidance systems manufactured by Raytheon Co that convert dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions that can more accurately hit their targets.
A Raytheon spokesman referred questions to the Pentagon and State Department. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told a news briefing he was unaware of the Reuters report.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials.
REFUELING TO CONTINUE
The White House launched a review of US assistance for the Saudi-led coalition after planes struck mourners at a funeral in the capital, Sanaa, in October, killing 140 people, according to one U.N. estimate.
The United Nations human rights office said in August that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for roughly 60 percent of the 3,800 civilians killed since March 2015.
Human rights groups, which have criticized the United States for supporting the Saudi war effort by selling the kingdom arms and refueling coalition jets, said the move by Washington was not enough. "This move falls far short of what is needed to end civilian bloodshed and alleviate suffering in Yemen," said Amnesty International's Samah Hadid in Beirut.
The rights groups pointed to the continued refueling of coalition planes, which the Obama administration official said for now was "not going to be touched."
Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California and a leading advocate in Congress for a suspension of US cooperation with the Saudi-led coalition, said he was pleased the Obama administration had moved to cut off some arms sales, but he also felt the administration had not gone far enough.
"It is completely bizarre that they are continuing to refuel Saudi jets that drop bombs on civilians in Yemen," Lieu said.
SMART VERSUS DUMB BOMBS
The decision to suspend the arms sale to the Saudis marks a reversal for the administration. Officials have long argued that supplying so-called "smart weapons" helped in reducing civilian casualties.
But that argument ultimately failed to convince the Obama administration during its review, which the first official said was still ongoing. "It's not a matter of how smart or dumb the bombs are, it's that they're not picking the right targets. The case in point . . . is the one on the funeral," the official said.
The airstrikes on the funeral took place after the Saudi-led coalition received incorrect information from Yemeni military figures that armed Houthi leaders were in the area, an investigative body set up by the coalition said in October.
Earlier this year, the US military reduced the number of US military personnel coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition's air campaign, slashing it to six people from a peak of 45 personnel.
"Their responsibilities are being adjusted and limited so that they are less enmeshed in some of the offensive operations in Yemen," the official said.
Reuters reported earlier on concerns by some US officials that the United States could be implicated in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war.
In May, Washington suspended sales to Riyadh of cluster munitions, which release dozens of bomblets and are considered particularly dangerous to civilians.
Last week, the State Department announced plans to sell Saudi Arabia CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and related equipment, training and support worth $3.51 billion. US officials said the weaponry would help Saudi defend its border, not conduct offensive operations in Yemen.
Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy.
Yemen Conflict: US Cuts Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia
LONDON (December 14, 2016) -- The US has said it will limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid concerns over civilian casualties linked to air strikes in Yemen. Precision-guided weapons will no longer be delivered, a Pentagon official said. President Barack Obama's administration said it was concerned over "flaws" in the way air strikes are targeted in Yemen.
In October, more than 140 people were killed in a strike on a funeral in the country. A Saudi-led coalition, which is attempting to support the elected government against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, was blamed for the attack.
White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price later warned Saudi Arabia that US security co-operation was "not a blank cheque". But while some sales are being scaled back, the US said it will continue to provide Saudi Arabia with intelligence focused on border security.
It will also provide training for pilots involved in the Saudi-led air campaign, to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible, the official said. Other contracts are expected to go ahead such as a deal worth more than $3 billion (£2.4bn) to supply military helicopters.
The Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen. Thousands of civilians have been killed and nearly three million people have been displaced in the country, one of the region's poorest, since the war began in 2014.
The Houthis took the capital Sanaa, forcing Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi's government to flee. Some ministers have since returned to the city of Aden.
Saudi Arabia has denied causing large-scale civilian deaths, saying it is making every effort to avoid hitting civilian targets.
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