Civil­ian death toll mounts in Ye­men

Num­bers don’t in­clude those who have died due to star­va­tion.

The Citizens' Voice - - WORLD - BY LEE KEATH

CAIRO — Airstrikes by Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies in Ye­men are on a pace to kill more civil­ians than last year, ac­cord­ing to a data­base track­ing vi­o­lence in the coun­try, de­spite the United States’ re­peated claims that the coali­tion is tak­ing pre­cau­tions to pre­vent such blood­shed.

The data­base gives an in­di­ca­tion of the scope of the dis­as­ter wreaked in Ye­men by nearly four years of civil war. At least 57,538 peo­ple — civil­ians and com­bat­ants — have been killed since the begin­ning of 2016, ac­cord­ing to the data as­sem­bled by the Armed Con­flict Lo­ca­tion & Event Data Project, or ACLED.

That doesn’t in­clude the first nine months of the war, in 2015, which the group is still an­a­lyz­ing. Those data are likely to raise the fig­ure to 70,000 or 80,000, ACLED’S Ye­men re­searcher An­drea Car­boni told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s count is con­sid­ered by many in­ter­na­tional agen­cies to be one of the most cred­i­ble, al­though all cau­tion it is likely an un­der­es­ti­mate be­cause of the dif­fi­cul­ties in track­ing deaths.

The num­bers don’t in­clude those who have died in the hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter caused by the war, par­tic­u­larly star­va­tion. Though there are no firm fig­ures, the aid group Save the Chil­dren es­ti­mated hunger may have killed 50,000 chil­dren in 2017. That was based on a cal­cu­la­tion that around 30 per­cent of se­verely mal­nour­ished chil­dren who didn’t re­ceive proper treat­ment likely died.

Re­newed uproar over the de­struc­tion has put Washington in a cor­ner. The U.S. has sold bil­lions of dol­lars in weaponry to Saudi Ara­bia, back­ing the fight to stop Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis, who Washington and the coali­tion con­sider a proxy for Iran.

That along with ten­sions over the killing of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in­side the coun­try’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul may be key fac­tors why De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo on Oct. 30 made their big­gest push yet for an end to the war, call­ing for a cease­fire within 30 days and re­sumed ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Only a month ear­lier, Pom­peo gave a pow­er­ful show of sup­port to the coali­tion by cer­ti­fy­ing to Congress that Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies were tak­ing mea­sures to pre­vent civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was a re­quired step in con­tin­u­ing U.S. aid, which in­cludes pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence used in tar­get­ing and mid-air re­fu­el­ing for coali­tion planes.

But deaths from the coali­tion cam­paign show no sign of slow­ing.

Coali­tion airstrikes and shelling killed at least 4,489 civil­ians since the begin­ning of 2016 — nearly three-quar­ters of all known civil­ian deaths, ac­cord­ing to ACLED’S fig­ures.

As of Nov. 3, at least 1,254 civil­ians were killed by the coali­tion this year, a rate of four a day. In com­par­i­son, 1,386 civil­ians died in strikes the pre­vi­ous year, or 3.79 a day.

Asked about the find­ing, the U.S. State Depart­ment said in an emailed re­ply, “Through­out this con­flict, the United States has urged all par­ties to abide by the Law of Armed Con­flict, work to pre­vent harm to civil­ians and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture, and thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gate and en­sure ac­count­abil­ity for any vi­o­la­tions.”

Blood­shed has surged from fierce fight­ing at the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, which coali­tion forces have been try­ing to re­take from the Houthis since June. Civil­ians have been killed in airstrikes as well as by Houthi shelling and land mines.

Since June, more than 4,500 peo­ple — in­clud­ing 515 con­firmed civil­ians — have been killed in Hodeida, nearly triple the num­ber from the first five months of the year.

Aid agen­cies fear worse is yet to come. The coali­tion ap­pears to be ac­cel­er­at­ing its as­sault be­fore any cease-fire. Its forces have nearly en­cir­cled the city, where tens of thou­sands of peo­ple are trapped along with thou­sands of Houthi fight­ers. The port is Ye­men’s main point of en­try for food and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, so any cut­off could push mil­lions into star­va­tion.

The coali­tion launched its air cam­paign in March 2015 af­ter the Houthis took over north­ern and cen­tral Ye­men, driv­ing out the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment. The rebels were pre­vented from over­run­ning the south only by the coali­tion’s bom­bard­ment and sup­port for mili­tia forces.

Track­ing ca­su­al­ties is enor­mously dif­fi­cult. The few in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tors on the ground do not have wide ac­cess; of­fi­cials on both sides have an in­ter­est in ma­nip­u­lat­ing fig­ures; deaths of­ten take place in re­mote ar­eas and even in pop­u­lated ar­eas, con­fu­sion of bat­tle makes con­firm­ing num­bers hard.

The most widely used es­ti­mate has been 10,000 dead, made in Jan­uary 2017 by the United Na­tions.

In Oc­to­ber, the U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor said at least 65,000 peo­ple have been killed or in­jured since 2016, in­clud­ing 16,000 civil­ians killed, based on data from health cen­ters. U.N. of­fi­cials did not re­ply to queries to elab­o­rate on the fig­ures.

ACLED builds its data­base on news re­ports from Ye­meni and in­ter­na­tional me­dia and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies. It cov­ers ev­ery­thing from airstrikes, shelling and ground bat­tles be­tween the var­i­ous forces to mil­i­tant bomb­ings and vi­o­lence at protests. The group receives fund­ing in part from the U.S. State Depart­ment and Dutch Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs.

Be­cause of its trans­parency, its fig­ures are of­ten cited by U.N. agen­cies and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions. But they cau­tion that even ACLED’S data can­not give the full pic­ture — only “the least bad best guess” as an of­fi­cial at one agency put it.

Pin­ning down how many of the dead are civil­ians is even tougher.

ACLED counted 6,242 civil­ians killed since 2016 by “re­mote vi­o­lence” on civil­ian tar­gets — mean­ing airstrikes, ar­tillery or shelling by ei­ther side. Of those, shelling by the Houthis or their al­lies killed 977.

The full toll is likely much higher. The vast ma­jor­ity of deaths — more than 34,000 — are cat­e­go­rized by ACLED as re­sult­ing from bat­tles. But it is im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine whether those are com­bat­ants or civil­ians, Car­boni said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Ye­me­nis at­tend the fu­neral of vic­tims of a Saudi-led airstrike in Saada, Ye­men, in Au­gust. The airstrikes by Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies in Ye­men are on a pace to kill more civil­ians in 2018 than last year de­spite as­sur­ances from the United States that the coali­tion is work­ing to pre­vent civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

A child in­jured in a deadly Saudi-led coali­tion airstrike rests in a hospi­tal in Saada, Ye­men, in Au­gust.

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