Pom­peo gives rea­son to stick with Saudis

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BEN WOLFGANG

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said last week it was stick­ing with Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies, telling Congress that they are do­ing all they can to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties in Ye­men’s bloody civil war — a con­tro­ver­sial con­clu­sion that will per­mit con­tin­ued U.S. sup­port in the cam­paign and al­low Amer­i­can mil­i­tary aid to keep flow­ing to the Saudi-led coali­tion.

The for­mal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to the House and Se­nate, writ­ten by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and pub­licly backed by De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, drew harsh re­bukes from law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill and from hu­man rights groups. They say the U.S. is “rub­ber-stamp­ing” Saudi Ara­bia’s bru­tal cam­paign and pro­tect­ing the valu­able re­la­tion­ship with Riyadh and its hard-charg­ing Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man over the lives of in­no­cent men, women and chil­dren.

Ye­men has been in the midst of a bru­tal con­flict for more than three years, with Ira­nian-backed Houthi rebels bat­tling Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and other re­gional part­ners for con­trol. Is­lamist groups are op­er­at­ing with im­punity in parts of the coun­try.

The war, marked by re­peated deadly strikes on civil­ians, cholera out­breaks and dire short­ages of food and med­i­cal sup­plies, has been rou­tinely deemed one of the world’s big­gest hu­man­i­tar­ian crises by the United Na­tions and pri­vate aid groups.

Hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions on Wed­nes­day ac­cused Mr. Pom­peo, Mr. Mat­tis and other of­fi­cials of bla­tantly lying in or­der to avoid of­fend­ing Saudi Ara­bia.

“To­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion once again put its Gulf al­lies ahead of Ye­meni fam­i­lies who are strug­gling to sur­vive,” said a state­ment by Scott Paul, leader of Ox­fam Amer­ica’s hu­man­i­tar­ian pol­icy.

“With Sec­re­tary Pom­peo’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the State Depart­ment demon­strated that it is blindly sup­port­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Ye­men with­out any al­le­giance to facts, moral code or hu­man­i­tar­ian law,” he said.

The Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions have of­fered lo­gis­ti­cal and in­tel­li­gence sup­port to the Saudi-led al­liance de­spite ris­ing crit­i­cism of the stale­mated con­flict. Prod­ded by crit­ics of the war, Congress passed leg­is­la­tion last month re­quir­ing Mr. Pom­peo to cer­tify by this week that the Saudis were do­ing all they could to min­i­mize civil­ian deaths or face a cut­off of all Amer­i­can aid.

“I cer­ti­fied to Congress yes­ter­day that the gov­ern­ments of Saudi Ara­bia and United Arab Emi­rates are un­der­tak­ing demon­stra­ble ac­tions to re­duce the risk of harm to civil­ians and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture re­sult­ing from mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions of these gov­ern­ments,” Mr. Pom­peo said in a brief state­ment last week that of­fered no de­tails on what the Saudis and their al­lies were do­ing to limit col­lat­eral dam­age.

The state­ment con­tin­ued, “We will con­tinue to work closely with the Saudiled coali­tion to en­sure Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE main­tain sup­port for U.N.-led ef­forts to end the civil war in Ye­men, al­low unim­peded ac­cess for the de­liv­ery of com­mer­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port through as many av­enues as pos­si­ble, and un­der­take ac­tions that mit­i­gate the im­pact of the con­flict on civil­ians and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture.”

Mr. Mat­tis agreed, say­ing the Saudi-led group has shown a com­mit­ment to limit civil­ian deaths.

Crit­i­cism for both sides

U.N. re­lief of­fi­cials and a host of other in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and aid groups have long crit­i­cized ac­tions by both sides in Ye­men’s civil war. They cite the soar­ing num­ber of civil­ian deaths, the mil­lions of peo­ple forced out of their homes, the out­breaks of disease, the lack of clean drink­ing wa­ter and wors­en­ing famine.

Ox­fam Amer­ica es­ti­mates that nearly 1,000 Ye­meni civil­ians, in­clud­ing more than 300 chil­dren, were killed last month alone. That toll in­cluded a widely pub­li­cized in­ci­dent in which a Saudi airstrike hit a school bus, re­port­edly killing 40 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nearly two dozen chil­dren.

The U.S. role in sup­port of the Saudis, part of a broader pol­icy of lim­it­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence in the re­gion, has drawn bi­par­ti­san con­dem­na­tion on Capi­tol Hill.

Over the sum­mer, law­mak­ers in­serted into the Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act lan­guage that would pro­hibit the ad­min­is­tra­tion from re­fu­el­ing Saudi planes and aid­ing in other ways un­less Mr. Pom­peo made the re­quired cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. But many law­mak­ers ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the brief state­ments by Mr. Pom­peo and Mr. Mat­tis, ar­gu­ing that U.S. sup­port is pro­long­ing the con­flict, not help­ing bring it to an end.

Mr. Pom­peo’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion “makes a mock­ery of con­gres­sional over­sight au­thor­ity,” Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, tweeted Wed­nes­day. “It’s not a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion — it’s a rub­ber stamp for Saudi Ara­bia.”

“The Trump Ad­min has all the facts here — but con­tin­ues to sup­port a coali­tion that bombs school­child­ren on a class trip,” she con­tin­ued. “It’s wrong and does noth­ing to make Amer­ica safer. We should use our in­flu­ence to bring an end to Ye­men’s hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis — not con­trib­ute to it.”

Al­though an ex­act num­ber is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional es­ti­mates that at least 15,000 civil­ians have been killed or in­jured since the fight­ing be­gan in 2015. Ox­fam es­ti­mated that Au­gust was the dead­li­est month so far for civil­ians.

Mean­while, Ye­men’s armed forces and its al­lies seized con­trol of two main roads at the strate­gic Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Al Jazeera re­ported, cut­ting off a main sup­ply route for Houthi rebels who still con­trol the city. The Saudi-led coali­tion re­sumed sup­port­ing airstrikes in the re­gion.

The Saudis in June launched a ma­jor as­sault to re­take the key port from the Houthi rebels, though aid groups have warned that Hodeida is a cru­cial en­try point for aid and that any degra­da­tion of the port — ei­ther by airstrikes or fight­ing on the ground — could make the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Ye­men even worse.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

As war brings death and mis­ery to Ye­meni peo­ple, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo has cer­ti­fied to Congress that the Saudi and Emi­rati gov­ern­ments are un­der­tak­ing demon­stra­ble ac­tions to re­duce the risk of harm to civil­ians and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture.

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