By THE EDITORIAL BOARD -- AUG. 17, 2016
A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians.
The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.
The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.
In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.
Saudi Arabia, which began the air war in March 2015, bears the heaviest responsibility for inflaming the conflict with the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran. The Saudis intervened in Yemen with the aim of defeating the Houthis and reinstalling President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the rebels ousted from power. They consider Iran their main enemy and feared Tehran was gaining too much influence in the region.
Although many experts believe the threat to be overstated, Mr. Obama agreed to support the Yemen intervention — without formal authorization from Congress — and sell the Saudis even more weapons in part to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran nuclear deal. All told, since taking office, Mr. Obama has sold the Saudis $110 billion in arms, including Apache helicopters and missiles.
Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war. Congress has the power to block this sale; Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, says he is discussing that possibility with other lawmakers. But the chances are slim, in part because of the politics.
Given the civilian casualties, further American support for this war is indefensible. As Mr. Murphy told CNN on Tuesday: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.”
by THE EDITORIAL BOARD -- OCT. 11, 2016
Airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition that devastated a funeral in Yemen on Saturday make it clear that the United States must end its complicity in a civil war that has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries and fueled extremism. It is within President Obama’s power to do so. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies depend on Washington for aircraft, munitions, training and in-flight refueling. The United States also helps Saudi Arabia guard its borders.
The administration insists its support for the coalition isn’t a “blank check.” But so far it has offered only stern words in response to an ever widening list of coalition attacks on civilians and civilian facilities that under international law are not legitimate military targets. If the Saudis refuse to halt the carnage and resume negotiations on a political settlement, Mr. Obama should end military support. Otherwise, America could be implicated in war crimes and be dragged even deeper into the conflict. On Monday, Houthi rebels who have been fighting with the Yemeni government reportedly launched a ballistic missile deep into Saudi Arabia, and on Sunday they may have fired on a United States Navy destroyer, but missed.
The Saudi strikes killed more than 140 mourners and wounded hundreds at a funeral in Sana, the capital, which is controlled by Houthi rebels, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran. The dead reportedly included many members of prominent tribes in northern Yemen as well as political and military leaders who supported peace talks to end the conflict.
Saudi Arabia bears the heaviest responsibility for inflaming the conflict. The Saudis began the air war in 2015 with the aim of reinstalling President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the Houthi rebels had ousted from power. The Saudis consider Iran their main enemy and feared it was gaining too much influence in the region.
An American official told The Times that there was no evidence the coalition had deliberately tried to hit civilians and that poor intelligence and poor targeting were the likely explanation. Even if true, that is no excuse; in fact, such factors are all the more reason to stop the strikes immediately. Before the funeral debacle, coalition strikes had hit a hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders, a school and a potato chip factory. Earlier this year, a United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to Yemeni children last year.
The Saudis did not inspire confidence by initially denying that their forces were involved in the attack on the funeral and only belatedly announcing an investigation into “reports about the regrettable and painful bombing.”
After the attack, Secretary of State John Kerry asked Saudi officials for an immediate cease-fire and was told Riyadh would do so as soon as possible if the Houthis agreed. The White House announced a review of its support for the coalition, saying it could result in adjustments.
All of this comes at a moment when America’s ties with Saudi Arabia are fraught over Syria and Riyadh’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Obama has supported the Saudi war effort in Yemen and sold the Saudis a total of $110 billion in arms, including a recent $1.15 billion order for tanks and other weapons, to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran deal. The tank sale went forward even though some administration officials have been worried that it could implicate the United States in war crimes. Last month, a Senate effort to block the tank sale failed.
Yemen is near collapse, with 80 percent of the country in need of humanitarian aid. Al Qaeda’s affiliate there is becoming stronger and the population more radicalized. The longer the war goes on, the harder it will be to end.