Congressmen Raise Concern About U.S. Role in Bombing Campaign

Middle East and North Africa

Since Saudi Arabia initiated its air campaign began in Yemen last March, the United States has announced $8.3 billion in new, major arms deals between Washington and Riyadh.

On the Hill, however, concerns are growing over the U.S. role in a crisis that has claimed the lives of over 2,100 civilians with no military solution in sight.

On October 14th, Representatives Debbie Dingell (MI), Keith Ellison (MN), Ted Lieu (CA), and 10 additional congressman sent a letter to President Obama urging his administration to “work to the fullest extent possible” to limit civilian casualties in Yemen and to strive towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

The utilization of U.S. weaponry and intelligence in an increasingly volatile campaign serves as the impetus for the letter. Citing the recent two deadly strikes on wedding parties that killed over 150 civilians, the representatives echo Amnesty International’s claim that the “vast majority” of civilian deaths and injuries in the seven-month-old conflict are attributed to the Saudi-led coalition.

They maintain that U.S. support to the coalition is significant and undeniable, writing,  “Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has acknowledged the United States is providing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and logistics information, as well as resupply of equipment and munitions.”

The congressmen stress the need to take extra precaution in the campaign to minimize such casualties: “When U.S. weapons and intelligence are utilized, the decision to conduct an airstrike [in Yemen] should correspond to the standards that would apply to any U.S. military operation for limiting civilian casualties and collateral damage.” In fact, it is U.S. policy to refrain from providing arms when the United States has knowledge that the weapons will be used in “attacks directed against civilian objects and civilians.”

As thousands of refugees flee the country every day, the letter cites the concerns of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and his position that there is no military solution to the conflict.  “With reports of the Houthi rebel leaders now open to possible UN negotiations, we urge you to continue all diplomatic efforts,” the letter concludes, giving credit to the Obama administration’s efforts to engage in negotiations thus far.

While their letter is critical of the Saudi-led campaign, the representatives underscore their support for UN Resolution 2216, which demands all parties in Yemen, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end violence.

All of these issues will be discussed in more detail at upcoming Security Assistance Monitor and Forum on the Arms Trade briefing at the Stimson Center on October 20. The event is titled “Crisis in Yemen - Humanitarian and Security Consequences of Military Support to the Region.”



Leah Schulz is an intern with Security Assistance Monitor specializing on the Middle East and North Africa.