Pen­tagon says US pro­vid­ing only non-com­bat sup­port in Hodei­dah

The National - News - - NEWS - JOYCE KARAM Washington

The United States is pro­vid­ing the Saudi-led Coali­tion in Ye­men with lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port as it wages an of­fen­sive to re­take Hodei­dah but is not in­volved in com­bat op­er­a­tions, the Pen­tagon said on Thurs­day.

“The United States is not in­volved in of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions in Hodei­dah,” Pen­tagon spokesman Maj Adrian Gal­loway said, out­lin­ing the scope of Washington’s role in Ye­men, in­clud­ing the bat­tle for the port city launched on Wed­nes­day.

“Our sup­port to the coali­tion con­sists of aerial re­fu­elling to coali­tion air­craft and in­tel­li­gence sup­port to as­sist our part­ners in se­cur­ing their bor­ders from cross-bor­der at­tacks from the Houthis,” Maj Gal­loway said.

While the Pen­tagon viewed the con­flict in Ye­men as one that “af­fects re­gional se­cu­rity across the Mid­dle East and threat­ens US na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing the free flow of com­merce in the Red Sea”, the US “does not com­mand, ac­com­pany, or par­tic­i­pate in counter-Houthi op­er­a­tions or any hos­til­i­ties other than those au­tho­rised against Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula and ISIS”, he said.

In­stead, “our non-com­bat sup­port fo­cuses on im­prov­ing coali­tion pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing com­pli­ance with the law of armed con­flict and best prac­tices for re­duc­ing the risk of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties”.

While recog­nis­ing the cru­cial func­tion of Hodei­dah port in pro­vid­ing aid, the state­ment added that “US mil­i­tary sup­port to our part­ners is al­ways geared to­wards mit­i­gat­ing non­com­bat­ant ca­su­al­ties”.

Ni­cholas Heras, a de­fence fel­low at the Cen­tre for New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, said the US “is in an awk­ward po­si­tion in Ye­men”.

On the one hand, “the UAE has carved out a zone in south­ern Ye­men that is free of Ira­nian-backed mili­tias and al­lows the US to go after Al Qaeda and ISIS, and the US is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the UAE’s hard work in south­ern Ye­men to con­duct more strikes against ter­ror­ist groups”, Mr Heras told The Na­tional.

On the other hand, “the war against the Houthis in north­ern Ye­men has re­sulted in Saudi Ara­bia’s bor­ders be­ing reg­u­larly breached, mis­siles be­ing fired at Saudi cities, in­ter­na­tional ship­ping be­ing threat­ened, and a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis”, he said.

“Iran is seem­ingly em­bed­ded in the moun­tains of Ye­men, mess­ing with Saudi Ara­bia at will.”

In that sense, the war against the Houthis in north­ern Ye­men “is plac­ing de­mands on the United States to do more, and to do it quickly”.

The US “no longer has a choice but to es­ca­late be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is that the coali­tion suf­fers heav­ier ca­su­al­ties and the Houthis keep fir­ing into Saudi Ara­bia with mis­siles com­ing through Hodei­dah”, Mr Heras said.

“Hodei­dah is just the be­gin­ning, and in some ways the eas­ier bat­tle in what needs to be a larger cam­paign on Sanaa,” the rebel-held cap­i­tal, he said.

A US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesper­son told The Na­tional that “the United States con­tin­ues as­sist­ing Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates in meet­ing their com­mit­ments to abide by the Law of Armed Con­flict and avoid to the great­est ex­tent pos­si­ble the risk of civil­ian causal­i­ties dur­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.”

The of­fi­cial said: “We ex­pect all par­ties to hon­our their com­mit­ments to work with the UN spe­cial en­voy and sup­port a po­lit­i­cal process to re­solve this con­flict, en­sure hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess, and map a sta­ble po­lit­i­cal fu­ture for Ye­men.”

Hodei­dah is just the be­gin­ning, and in some ways the eas­ier bat­tle in what needs to be a larger cam­paign on Sanaa

NI­CHOLAS HERAS Cen­tre for New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity

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