Acceptable Losses

Acceptable Losses

Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen
By Andrew Cockburn

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was
judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out
of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every
five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every
year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts
predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Such was the dire condition of the country before Saudi
Arabia unleashed a bombing campaign in March 2015, which has destroyed
warehouses, factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, water tanks, gas
stations, and bridges, along with miscellaneous targets ranging from
donkey carts to wedding parties to archaeological monuments. Thousands
of civilians — no one knows how many — have been killed or wounded.

Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off
supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war,
the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on
the brink of starvation.This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral
support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs,
and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United
Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.)
U.S. Navy ships aided the blockade. But no one that I talked to in
Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our
national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a
Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few
public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far
away. “Honestly,” he told me, “I think it’s because Saudi Arabia

The principal targets of the Saudi bombers (augmented by a coalition of Arab allies)
have been a tribal group from the north of Yemen, adjacent to the Saudi border,
who follow Zaidism, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Though it is distinct from the
variant of Shiism practiced in Iran, the connection was destined to
excite the suspicions of the fervently anti-Iranian Saudi regime.
So, almost forty years ago, the Saudis planted an outpost of their
own extreme Wahhabi sect in the heart of Zaidi territory. The emissary
sent to found the madrassa was Muqbil al-Wadie, a leader of the 1979
assault on Mecca’s Grand Mosque, who had until that moment been rotting
in a Saudi prison. As has been their habit, the Saudis solved their own
terrorism problem by exporting it.

The intrusive enterprise, which attracted a growing stream of
militant Sunnis, eventually provoked a reaction among the local Zaidis
in favor of their Shia tendencies. Accordingly, under the leadership of
Hussein al-Houthi, they sought religious instruction from Iran in the
form of teachers and literature, which were duly supplied, much to
Riyadh’s irritation.

For many years, this Iranian connection was treated with equanimity
by Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Following 9/11, however, he
came under pressure from Washington to play his part in the war against
Al Qaeda, which had been active in Yemen since the late 1990s. Saleh
found this mission unappealing, given the terrorist group’s connections
with some of the country’s most powerful political forces. According to
Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, an activist whose family has long played a
leading role in the nation’s politics, Saleh suggested to the Americans
that he first deal with the Shiite troublemakers in the north. “From day
one,” Iryani told me, “the Houthis were presented as an Iranian client,
a terrorist movement.” This policy, unsurprisingly, was greeted with
favor in Riyadh, and reciprocated with commensurate financial largesse.

Privately, U.S. officials were doubtful of the Iranian connection,
even at the beginning of Saleh’s campaign against the group in 2004.
“The fact that after five years of conflict there is still no compelling
evidence of that link must force us to view this claim with some
skepticism,” wrote the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Seche, in a
classified 2009 cable later released by WikiLeaks. Nevertheless, the
Americans were eager to secure Saleh’s cooperation against Al Qaeda.
They did little to restrain him in his war with the Houthis, as they
came to be called following the death of Hussein al-Houthi in 2004.

In 2009, hoping for a final victory, Saleh managed to involve the
Saudis directly by eliciting their permission to send Yemeni troops
across the border to attack the Houthis from the rear. In response, a
small force of Houthis invaded Saudi Arabia. Adding to the
complications, Yemen now became embroiled in Saudi court politics:
Khalid bin Sultan, the prince who effectively controlled the defense
ministry, moved to assert dominance at the expense of a rival prince at
the interior ministry, using the Houthi incursion as an excuse. Promptly
declaring the southern portion of the country a “killing zone,” he
mobilized the entire Saudi military. The air force carpet bombed the
border region, including Saada, the Houthi heartland.

The result, however, was a humiliating setback for the House of Saud.
Their ground troops were bested by the Houthis and suffered numerous
casualties. The aerial campaign was no more impressive. “It was not a
moment of glory for the Saudi air force,” according to David Des Roches,
who formerly oversaw Saudi-related policy at the Pentagon and is now an
associate professor at the National Defense University. “They were
basically just dropping rounds in the desert.” A senior U.N. diplomat
put it to me more bluntly: “They lost.”

Saleh’s own offensive was equally ineffectual, and the Houthis were
left to fight another day. Meanwhile, Yemen’s ill fortune proved a blessing,
not for the last time, for the U.S. defense establishment. The Obama
Administration was already bent on expanding arms sales as part of its
drive to boost exports, and now manna fell from heaven. Shocked by their
poor performance against the Houthi guerrillas, the Saudis embarked on a
massive weapons-buying spree.

At the top of their shopping list were eighty-four specially modified
Boeing F-15 jets, along with around 170 helicopters. They also
purchased a huge quantity of bombs and missiles — notably, 1,300 cluster
bombs sold by the Textron Corporation at a cost of $641 million.
Fortunately for Textron, neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia had
endorsed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a 2008 treaty already
signed by more than one hundred nations, which banned these weapons on
the grounds that they caused “unacceptable harm” to civilians.
This enormous deal totaled $60 billion: the largest arms sale in U.S.

The scale of the transaction says much about America’s
relationship with the House of Saud. The bond was forged at a 1945
meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, with
both parties agreeing that Saudi Arabia would guarantee the United
States cheap oil in return for American military protection. Both sides
largely kept to the bargain. The Saudis even subsidized the price of oil
exported to the United States — at least until 2002, when they
abandoned the policy out of irritation at George W. Bush’s plan to
topple the Sunni regime in Iraq.

America’s adherence to its side of the deal is most concretely
manifested in a housing compound a dozen or so miles outside Riyadh.
Eskan Village is home to 2,000 Americans, military and civilian,
dedicated to the security of the regime. For the U.S. military, it is a
gratifyingly lucrative arrangement. Some inhabitants of the compound
supervise the arming and training of the Saudi National Guard —
a mission that has so far generated $35 billion in U.S. military sales.

Others are attached to the U.S. Military Training Mission to Saudi
Arabia, which services the regular armed forces. According to its
website, this group is charged with enhancing American national security
“through building the capability and capacity of the Saudi Arabian
Armed Forces” — a task that absolutely includes acting
as an “advocate for U.S. business to supply defense goods and services
to the S.A.A.F.” In other words, the Saudis host a sales team dedicated
to selling them weapons. Furthermore, they fund its upkeep, paying
roughly $30 million a year for the privilege.

As Des Roches reminded me, the U.S. government is the official vendor
for weapons sales on behalf of corporations such as Boeing and Textron.
“We levy a surcharge for the U.S. government’s involvement,” he
explained, reminding me that the sale of the F-15s and other assorted
items ran to $60 billion. “Seven percent of that is a significant amount
of money,” he continued. “That basically covers U.S. government
operating expenses to run things like training for the Bolivian armed
forces in counternarcotics, and stuff like that. Up until very, very
recently, the Saudis pretty much subsidized everything. People do not
realize how much benefit we get from our interaction with them.”

This long relationship has sunk deep roots in the U.S. defense
establishment, especially since close acquaintance with the
free-spending Saudi hierarchy can lead to attractive postretirement
opportunities. David Commons, for example, the Air Force general who
directed the military mission from 2011 to 2013, was responsible for
what he calls the “management and execution” of the huge 2010 arms sale.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that on his return from Saudi
Arabia he turned to commerce, where his Middle Eastern connections
could be put to good use. First he chaired the Sharaka Group, offering
“knowledge, experience, and tenacity” in navigating the “maze” of Saudi
bureaucracy. Next he cofounded Astrolabe Enterprises, which, by his
account, helps the Saudis buy American weapons. “If they need a
capability,” he told me, “we are there.

”One capability of which the Saudis are certainly in need is keeping their
expensive toys in working order, a lucrative prospect for firms such as Astrolabe.
By 2015, the maintenance contract for the F-15s alone was worth $2.5 billion.
Almost all the technically demanding work on the highly complex plane, especially on its electronics, appears to require the services of American contract workers.
This has led to something of a gold rush for mechanics and engineers.
TS Government Solutions, of Lake Elsinore, California, is currently looking for
maintenance mechanics “in support of RSAF F-15 platform throughout Saudi
Arabia. . . . VERY lucrative comp plan.” There are no less than 1,471
openings listed on the website of ManTech International, of Fairfax,
Virginia, the recipient of a $175 million F-15 maintenance contract.

“Every time I looked at someone doing something technical on an F-15, it
was an American contractor,” Chet Richards, a former Air Force Reserve
colonel who served several tours as an air attaché in Riyadh, told me.
“These are really, really complex systems. We have trouble keeping them
flying in our own air force.”

Other features of the U.S.–Saudi security relationship are more
obscure, such as the “secret” CIA drone base deep in the southwestern
desert, which became operational in 2011 and has been periodically
rediscovered by the media in subsequent years. Dedicated to launching
drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen, it was a fruit of Saleh’s
delicate balancing act, whereby he tacitly endorsed the ongoing U.S.
assassination campaign against Al Qaeda leaders while avoiding direct
action against the group himself. Indeed, even as the drones regularly
incinerated Al Qaeda members along with innocent bystanders and the
occasional wedding party, Saleh not only declined to arrest the
terrorists but on occasion provided them with safe houses in Sanaa.

Ignorant of (or perhaps unconcerned by) this double-dealing, Washington
continued to indulge the wily Yemeni leader with copious aid and
training missions.

This comfortable arrangement became unstuck in early 2011, when
the so-called Arab Spring reached Yemen. The
populace united in massive demonstrations against the president’s
dictatorial and corrupt rule. Wounded in an unsuccessful assassination
attempt, Saleh eventually resigned in favor of his vice president, the
former army general Mansour Hadi. Endorsed by both the United States and
Saudi Arabia, Hadi ran for election in 2012 and won with 99 percent of
the vote — hardly a surprise, given that he was the only candidate. He
quickly launched a “national dialogue” with the aim of reconciling
Yemen’s many tribal and regional factions. This failed to mollify the
Houthis, who felt (somewhat reasonably, according to Ambassador Seche)
that they were being dealt out of the new arrangements. In
September 2014 they marched into Sanaa and, not long afterward, placed
Hadi under house arrest.

Meanwhile, there had been ructions north of the border. King Abdullah
died in January 2015, at the age of ninety, and was succeeded by his
seventy-nine-year-old half brother, Prince Salman. Suffering from
dementia, Salman reportedly could function at meetings only by reading
prepared talking points off a monitor masked by a vase of flowers. It
soon became apparent that real power had devolved to his
twenty-nine-year-old son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who in short order
took control of the defense ministry as well as the royal household.

The Saudi regime has traditionally ruled by consensus. A previous
king, Fahd, once told an American envoy that he had made only one
decision in fifty years: inviting the Americans to expel Saddam Hussein
from Kuwait in 1990. But Mohammed cut through the venerable system of
checks and balances, imposing decisions that were, according to one
former American diplomat with long experience of the Saudis, “bold, not
to say rash.”

Given his nation’s long-standing readiness to see “a Persian under
every khat bush,” as the diplomat put it, Mohammed was eager to try out
his expensive new weapons. He could crush the Houthis with a quick
campaign and thereby shore up his own position at the expense of
potential rivals in the ruling family.

On March 26, 2015, having secured a request for intervention from
Hadi, the Royal Saudi Air Force went into action. The United States
announced it was supplying “logistical and intelligence support.” Five
days later, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a comprehensive air and sea
blockade of Houthi-held areas, including Hodeidah, the principal port
serving northern Yemen. For a population that relied on imports for at
least 90 percent of its food, not to mention almost all other essentials
such as fuel, cooking gas, and medicine, the effect would be

Following standard practice in modern air campaigns, initial strikes
targeted the Yemeni air force and air defenses, using high-tech bombs
and missiles that allegedly guarantee precise accuracy. The Saudis may
even have believed the arms merchants’ sales pitches: a few days after
the bombing began, a senior Saudi diplomat assured U.N. officials that
the use of “very precise weapons” would prevent any collateral damage
among the civilian population. In any event, the Saudis had little need
to fear diplomatic censure at the United Nations. A Security Council
resolution effectively demanding unconditional surrender from the
Houthis passed with American support.

U.S. diplomatic cover would be unstintingly maintained as the war
raged on. In September, six months into the bombing, the Dutch
government sponsored a resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council
calling for an independent and unfettered investigation into war crimes
committed by all sides in Yemen. The Saudis strenuously objected,
demanding that any such investigation be left in the hands of the
deposed President Hadi, who was living in exile in Riyadh. The United
States declined to support the Dutch, effectively killing the idea. In
an officially cleared background interview, I asked a senior State
Department official why the United States had acted as it did.
“The Yemenis didn’t want it,” he replied, by which he meant Hadi.

“Does the United States usually do what Mr. Hadi wants or doesn’t want?” I asked.

“Well, when we agree with him, yes,” he answered with a smirk.

In fact, the Obama Administration’s support for the Yemeni adventure
was never in doubt, if only because it had much bigger diplomatic fish
to fry — most notably, the nuclear deal with Iran, the centerpiece of
Obama’s foreign-policy agenda, which was impending at the time the war
began. “The negotiations were not complete,” I was told by William
Luers, a former senior diplomat deeply involved in back-channel talks
with the Iranians. “The opposition from Israel and the Gulf to the Iran
deal was very strong.” Under the circumstances, he suggested, Obama
could ill afford to alienate his Arab partners — and surely the Yemeni
conflict wouldn’t last long. “Once they were involved in support of the
Saudis,” Luers said, “they couldn’t back out.”

Civilians began to die early on the day
the war started. Among the first were three young sons of Yasser
al-Habashi, a grocery-store owner whose home on the outskirts of Sanaa
was hit by a bomb around two in the morning on March 26. Habashi himself
woke up in a hospital after thirteen days in a coma. “There is nothing
left of my house that I lived in,” he said later, “and on top of all
this, three of my children were killed.”

Five days into the assault, the attackers leveled Yemen’s largest
cement factory, killing at least ten people, most of them employees
preparing to head home on a bus. A further thirty-one workers died when
bombers struck the Yemany Dairy and Beverage factory on the coast. A
strike on a refugee camp at Mazraq, full of people who had fled the
bombing in Saada and elsewhere, killed forty-five and injured two
hundred more.The Saudi’s education in aerial targeting had been the best that
money could buy. A week before the war began, they had approached John
Brennan, an old friend from his days as CIA station chief in Riyadh and
now the agency’s director, with a list of more than a hundred potential
targets. Reporters were later told that American defense and
intelligence officials had reviewed the list and suggested some
amendments, removing targets of little military value and others that
might endanger civilians. In addition, the United States agreed to help
man the coalition’s joint operations center with a liaison group that
would advise the Saudis on how to hit their targets most effectively.

The group would also ensure that U.S. Air Force tankers were on hand to
refuel bombing sorties, a duty they performed more than 700 times by
February 2016 — charging, of course, for the gas.

As reports of civilian casualties and Houthi advances seeped into the
media, administration officials began to nurture some misgivings. On
April 7, two weeks into the war, Tony Blinken, the deputy secretary of
state, arrived in Riyadh, the first State Department official to meet
one-on-one with the hyperactive and increasingly powerful Prince
Mohammed. Blinken’s public message was one of unqualified support for
the war. “Saudi Arabia is sending a strong message to the Houthis and
their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force,” he told
reporters. “As part of that effort, we have expedited weapons deliveries
[and] increased our intelligence sharing.”

In private, however, Blinken had an urgent question for his hosts.
According to diplomatic sources, he asked: What were they actually
trying to accomplish in this war? “Eliminate all traces of Iranian
influence in Yemen,” the Saudis answered blithely. American officials
blenched at the prospect of a Houthi-extermination campaign, but they
gave their blessing to what seemed like a more modest goal: preventing a
Houthi takeover of all of Yemen and restoring the “elected president”
to power.

Indeed, as Iryani explained to me, the allies had put all their chips
on Hadi. “The Saudis and Americans believed that once the bombing
started, Hadi would be able to rally loyal elements in the army and
regain control,” he said. “But it turned out that the entire military
was with Saleh. Hadi had no influence at all.” So the war went on, with
the Houthis and Saleh’s forces advancing steadily despite the bombing.
In August, after visiting Sanaa and Aden, Peter Maurer, the head of
the International Red Cross, declared that “Yemen after five months
looks like Syria after five years.” Maurer attributed this not only to
the fighting and bombing but to the ongoing blockade. A day earlier,
coalition planes had bombed the vital port of Hodeidah, carefully
targeting cranes and other necessary equipment.

The port city of Mukalla, however, was left completely unmolested,
despite the fact that it was now controlled by Al Qaeda, the object of
so many U.S. drone attacks in previous years. The takeover, in
April 2015, had been a peaceful one. Saudi-backed forces evacuated the
city with barely a shot fired. Al Qaeda would continue to occupy the
city and most of eastern Yemen, enriching itself in the process, over
the following year. In bitter fighting for the city of Taiz in
February 2016, Al Qaeda fighters formed a crucial component of the
Saudi-backed anti-Houthi forces.

In Washington, I asked an intelligence
official in close touch with the Yemeni situation, who asked not to be
named, what the Saudi plan had been at the outset. “Plan?” he replied in
exasperated tones. “There was no plan. No plan at all. They
just bombed anything and everything that looked like it might be a
target. Trucks on a highway — that became a military convoy. Buildings,
bridges, anything. When they did find a military target, they bombed it,
and then went back and bombed it again.”

There may have been a certain military logic to the repeated strikes
on the mountains surrounding Sanaa, into which Saleh had burrowed
ammunition dumps over the years. Still, these attacks were catastrophic
for people living in nearby neighborhoods. On April 20, 2015, a powerful
bunker-buster bomb hit one such dump on Faj Attan mountain, setting off
a massive explosion that wrecked houses over a wide area, including
Iryani’s. “The mountain exploded,” he told me soon afterward. “About a
thousand people were killed or injured. All the children I know are
traumatized. Everyone I know knows someone who’s died.”

For hundreds or thousands of strikes, there was less excuse, or none
at all. In mid-April of 2015, for example, there appears to have been a
concerted attempt to destroy all the gas stations in Saada, which was
already being heavily attacked. Thanks to the blockade, fuel was scarce,
and drivers would spend hours or days waiting in line to fill up. That
was how at least five people died and twenty-three were injured on April
15 — the number of victims is actually unclear, since so many were
burned beyond recognition. Several weeks later, on May 8, the coalition
declared that the entire 4,000-square-mile governorate of Saada was now a
“military target,” and therefore open to indiscriminate attack. In the
weeks and months to come, much of the province’s ancient capital city
was reduced to rubble, a fate shared by towns and villages across the
north, where cluster bombs were heavily used.

“I witnessed about a thousand air strikes,” recalled Tariq Riebl, an
aid worker with a major international humanitarian organization who
traveled extensively in Yemen from June to September last year. “Some of
them were very close. I almost burst my eardrum in one.” In Sanaa, he
said, the strikes were relentless, lasting up to five hours. “You’d have
that four to six times a day. It would start randomly. It was the
middle of the night, middle of the day, morning, night, afternoon,
anytime. Consistently on holidays, on Fridays, in the middle of prayer
time, market days.”

Crowded markets appear to have had a particular attraction for the
targeteers. Human Rights Watch documented a dozen such attacks across
northern Yemen, including five in Saada alone. On May 12, for example,
three bombs, five minutes apart, hit a market in the Houthi-controlled
town of Zabid, killing at least sixty civilians. Another attack killed
sixty-five on July 4. In the deadliest market attack to date, on
March 15, 2016, two bombs in the village of Mastaba killed at least
ninety-seven people, including twenty-five children. Many of the victims
died as they fled the scene of the first strike only to be hit by the
second, a notable example of the double-tap technique frequently
employed during the campaign. “When the first strike came, the world was
full of blood,” Mohammed Yehia Muzayid, a cleaner at the market, told
Belkis Wille, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “People were all in
pieces, their limbs were everywhere. People went flying. Most of the
people, we collected in pieces, we had to put them in plastic bags. A
leg, an arm, a head. There wasn’t more than five minutes between the
first and second strike. The second strike was there, at the entrance to
the market. People were taking the injured out, and it hit the wounded
and killed them.”

Metal fragments retrieved from the scene were revealed to be from
U.S.-manufactured GBU-31 satellite-guided bombs, a thousand of which
were included in a $1.29 billion weapons sale to the Saudis in
November 2015. I asked the senior State Department official if there was
ever any consideration of refusing such deals. He responded by
suggesting that supplying high-tech precision weapons was essentially a
humanitarian gesture: “If you want the Saudis to be able to limit
collateral damage, then it’s not particularly useful not to give them the weapons that would be most effective in doing that.”

Congressman Lieu thought this a “very lame excuse” when I quoted it
to him. “The law of war doesn’t say, ‘Hey, we have the
precision-guided-munitions exception.’ It says, ‘You cannot target or
kill civilians.’ ”

Lieu could be considered an authority on this topic, since he is a
colonel in the Air Force Reserve and spent four years as an active-duty
JAG lawyer, instructing military personnel on the law of war. He was
convinced that the Saudis and their allies were in violation of those
very statutes. He was especially concerned by the use of cluster bombs,
which he categorized as a “war crime if you drop them on civilians.”

Six months into the war, Lieu wrote to the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford Jr., asking if he believed that
Yemeni civilians were being deliberately targeted. The answer was
classified, but it seems reasonable to assume it was negative. Belkis
Wille has a more complicated view. She told me she would often spot some
kind of military installation near a bombed civilian site, which may
have been the intended target. On the evening of July 24, for example,
the coalition bombed a housing compound for workers of the Mokha power
plant, in the southwest corner of Yemen. Sixty-five people were killed,
including ten children. At least forty-two more were wounded, several of
them critically. Wille concluded that the intended target was a
military air-defense base, which had been empty for many years,
according to unanimous local testimony. More to the point, the base was
half a mile away, and easily distinguishable from the compound. “There
may have been a lack of good military intelligence,” she told me. “But
the end result was an incredibly high rate of sloppiness and

Others are less forgiving. Tariq Riebl concluded that the civilian
targets were not an accident. “Let’s be very clear,” he told me. “The
civilian targeting is absolutely astounding. I’ve seen hospitals,
mosques, marketplaces, restaurants, power plants, universities,
residential houses, just bombed, office buildings, bombed. Everything is
a target. In Saada, there were dead donkeys on the side of all the main
roads because the Saudis were hitting donkey carts. In Hajjah, the
water tank in one of the towns got hit, and it sits on a lonesome little
hill. There was nothing there. When you’re hitting a donkey cart or
you’re hitting a water tank, what is your rationale? Is that donkey cart
transporting a Scud missile? What is the thinking here from a military

According to Ahmed Assiri, a brigadier general in the Saudi army and a
coalition spokesman, the “work” was not “random.” Occasional “mistakes”
were due solely to “human error.” In a
January 31 press conference, Assiri addressed the particular case of the
Doctors Without Borders hospital in Hayden, destroyed last October by
air strikes — one of three of the organization’s facilities to be hit
during the war — leaving 200,000 people in the region without access to
lifesaving medical care. The group had repeatedly relayed the hospital’s
GPS coordinates to the Saudis, most recently three days before the
strike, and prominently displayed their logo on the roof.

An otherwise unidentified “frontline observer,” explained Assiri, had
spotted a target that was “of high value” and relayed the news to a
patrolling coalition attack plane. This target, presumably an
individual, moved closer to the hospital, and the pilot, seizing an
opportunity, attacked. “But there were side effects,” Assiri continued,
“causing the collapse of a big part of the hospital.” (In fact, it was
utterly demolished.) It seems that the frontline observer did not check
with the command center as to whether the hospital was a restricted
target — and in any case, the pilot overlooked the logo on the roof,
“which was very small and cannot be seen by eye.” (A spokesman for the
organization, Tim Shenk, assured me that the logo “clearly identified”
the hospital.)

From the professional perspective of Des Roches, the Saudis and their
partners have not done badly at all. “Twenty-eight hundred [killed] for
a yearlong bombing campaign?” he told me, using a U.N. figure from
January. “That’s one night in Hamburg in World War Two.” In fact, the
number of civilians killed from the air in a year, he suggested, bore
favorable comparison with NATO’s record in the 1999 air campaign against
Serbia, the so-called Kosovo War, in which some 500 civilians died from
allied air strikes in barely three months. The Saudis, in his view,
were “showing restraint. They’re showing a degree of technical expertise.”

As of February 2016, the Saudis noted that the coalition had flown
more than 46,500 sorties over Yemen. By July, sixty-nine strikes studied
in detail by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had killed
913 civilians, at least. As of June, the World Health Organization
reported nearly 6,500 dead and more than 31,400 injured, on the basis of
information from hospitals around the country. But Doctors Without
Borders officials insist that they alone have treated more than 37,000
people with war-related injuries. In any case, more than half the
population lacked access to any health care, let alone hospitals.

“As you can of course imagine, those numbers are an underestimation,
as people might not bother to take their killed relatives to the
hospital just to be counted,” observed Alvhild Strømme, a W.H.O.
spokesperson, in a candid email. “I am sure there are many more,
especially killed, but also wounded.”

Just over a year after the onslaught began, the Saudis and Houthis
called a halt, declaring a ceasefire and beginning peace talks. Bitter
fighting has continued in parts of the country, especially around Taiz,
where the Saleh-allied Houthi forces, themselves no angels, have
nonchalantly shelled civilian areas. Though air strikes slowed, they
have continued into the summer, inflicting a steady toll of civilian
deaths. Al Qaeda was meanwhile permitted to evacuate Mukalla with all
its equipment. Disappearing into the countryside, the terrorist group
began a series of deadly bombing attacks. U.N. officials talked of a
“humanitarian catastrophe” and issued a call for $1.8 billion in
emergency funds. By July, the United States had contributed $148
million, just over 8 percent of the requested amount. Meanwhile, weapons
sales to Saudi Arabia over the course of the Obama Administration had
topped $111 billion.

The country is in ruins, like Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani’s own house.
“Yemen,” he told me sadly as the explosions continued, “is such a small
part of the U.S.–Saudi relationship.”


By: Snusmumrikken (1276.66)

Tags: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Houthi, UN, USA, Wahhabism, Salafism

Location: Riyadh Saudi Arabia

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