A reminder of the permanent wars: Dozens of U.S. airstrikes in six countries

The Washington Post reports: While Americans savored the last moments of summer this Labor Day weekend, the U.S. military was busy overseas as warplanes conducted strikes in six countries in a flurry of attacks. The bombing runs across Asia, Africa and the Middle East spotlighted the diffuse terrorist threats that have persisted into the final days of the Obama presidency — conflicts that the next president is now certain to inherit.

In Iraq and Syria, between Saturday and Monday, the United States conducted about 45 strikes against Islamic State targets. On the other side of the Mediterranean, in the Libyan city of Sirte, U.S. forces also hit fighters with the militant group. On Sunday in Yemen, a U.S. drone strike killed six suspected members of ­al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The following day, just across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, the Pentagon targeted al-Shabab, another group aligned with ­al-Qaeda. The military also conducted several counterterrorism strikes over the weekend in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and the Islamic State are on the offensive.

Militants in each of those countries have been attacked before, but the convergence of so many strikes on so many fronts in such a short period served as a reminder of the endurance and geographic spread of al-Qaeda and its mutations.

“This administration really wanted to end these wars,” said Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and Pentagon official now at the Center for a New American Security. “Now, we’ve got U.S. combat operations on multiple fronts and we’re dropping bombs in six countries. That’s just the unfortunate reality of the terrorism threat today.”

In meeting those threats, Obama has sought to limit the large-scale deployments of the past, instead relying on air power, including drones; isolated Special Operations raids; and support for foreign forces.

But militant groups have defied eight years of these sustained counterterrorism efforts.

Nowhere are the unexpected turns of Obama’s foreign-policy record more visible than in Iraq, where thousands of U.S. troops returned after the 2011 withdrawal to support local forces’ battle against the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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UN says 10,000 killed in Yemen war, far more than other estimates

Reuters reports: At least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s 18-month-old civil war, the United Nations on Tuesday, approaching double the estimates of more than 6,000 cited by officials and aid workers for much of 2016.

The war pits the Iran-allied Houthi group and supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is supported by an alliance of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

The new toll is based on official information from medical facilities in Yemen, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick told a news conference in the capital Sanaa. It might rise as some areas had no medical facilities, and people were often buried without official records.

The United Nations human rights office said last week that 3,799 civilians have been killed in the conflict, with air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition responsible for some 60 percent of deaths. [Continue reading…]

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How Arab authoritarian regimes learned to defeat popular protests

Marc Lynch writes: The Arab world never seemed more unified than during the incandescent days of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Tunisia’s revolution clearly and powerfully inspired Arabs everywhere to take to the streets. Egypt’s Jan. 25 uprising, which resulted in the removal of Hosni Mubarak, taught Arab citizens and leaders alike that victory by protesters could succeed.

The subsequent wave of protests involved remarkable synergies that could not plausibly be explained without reference to transnational diffusion. Bahrainis, Yemenis and Jordanians alike attempted to replicate the seizure and long-term encampments in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and protesters across the Arab world chanted the same slogans and waved the same signs.

But what happened in the months and years after those heady days? Did similar processes of diffusion and cross-national learning shape the post-uprisings era? Did autocratic regimes learn from one another in the same way that protesters did? In June, more than a dozen scholars came together in Hamburg, Germany, for a workshop jointly organized by the Project on Middle East Political Science and the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. The workshop closely examined learning, diffusion and demonstration across autocratic regimes during the Arab counter-revolution. The papers for that workshop, available here as an open access PDF download, closely examine the ways in which Arab autocrats did — and did not — learn from one another. [Continue reading…]

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As the U.S. continues providing targeting intelligence, Saudis continue bombing hospitals in Yemen

The New York Times reports: It was a frenetic Monday afternoon at Abs Hospital in northern Yemen, with doctors and nurses busily shuttling among the patients and a maternity ward filled with 25 women expecting to give birth.

The bomb from the Saudi jet dropped into the middle of the hospital compound, a facility run by Doctors Without Borders, landing between the emergency room and a triage area for new patients. Nineteen people were killed, dozens were injured, and a humanitarian group that for decades has braved war zones across the globe decided it had had enough.

Doctors Without Borders announced in the days after the Aug. 15 strike that it was pulling out of six medical facilities in northern Yemen, the latest turn in a war that has further devastated one of the Arab world’s poorest countries and has bogged down a Saudi military ill-prepared for the conflict.

For the Obama administration, it was another public reminder of the spiraling violence of a war in which it has played a direct role. American officials have publicly condemned the hospital bombing — and the bombing of a school two days earlier — but the Pentagon has given steady support to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, with targeting intelligence and fuel for the Saudi planes involved in the air campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen

Andrew Cockburn writes: 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 asked.” [Continue reading…]

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The Mideast conflict Obama still could solve

Politico reports: Just days ago, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations famed for her searing work on genocide, tweeted an image of a bridge in Yemen that had been destroyed, likely in a Saudi airstrike.

“Strikes on hospital/school/infrastructure in #Yemen devastating for ppl already facing unbearable suffering&must end,” Power wrote. The bridge was a crucial piece of infrastructure for Yemenis desperate for humanitarian aid amid a war that has killed more than 6,600 people and uprooted millions.

But Power’s tweet was awkward, given that the United States has backed Saudi Arabia’s military offensive in Yemen for nearly 18 months, supplying Riyadh with intelligence and logistical support to fight Houthi rebels linked to Iran.

The backlash was swift. “Thank you. Now how about cutting off US military aid to the Saudi campaign?” replied one activist focused on refugee issues. [Continue reading…]

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UK in denial over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen, claims Oxfam

The Guardian reports: British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are a serious violation of international law, because the Gulf nation’s bombing campaign in Yemen is regularly hitting civilian targets including schools and hospitals, Oxfam has warned.

The UK government has switched from being an “enthusiastic backer” of the Arms Trade Treaty to “one of the most significant violators”, a senior executive at the charity told a conference on Tuesday on the global agreement in Geneva.

The Saudi-led air campaign was launched in March 2015, aiming to put down a rebellion by Shia Houthis, who have backing from Iran. It was widely seen as part of a regional sectarian proxy war between the two nations.

Since then Riyadh has been criticised by the UN, the EU and human rights groups for repeatedly killing or injuring civilians.

The bombardment has been so intense that medical charity MSF recently announced it was withdrawing from six hospitals in northern Yemen after the fourth airstrike against one of its facilities in less than a year. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia kills civilians, the U.S. looks the other way

Samuel Oakford writes: In the span of four days earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen bombed a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital, killing 19 people; a school, where 10 children, some as young as 8, died; and a vital bridge over which United Nations food supplies traveled, punishing millions.

In a war that has seen reports of human rights violations committed by every side, these three attacks stand out. But the Obama administration says these strikes, like previous ones that killed thousands of civilians since last March, will have no effect on the American support that is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s air war.

On the night of Aug. 11, coalition warplanes bombed the main bridge on the road from Hodeidah, along the Red Sea coast, to Sana, the capital. When it didn’t fully collapse, they returned the next day to destroy the bridge.

More than 14 million Yemenis suffer dangerous levels of food insecurity — a figure that dwarfs that of any other country in conflict, worsened by a Saudi-led and American-supported blockade. One in three children under the age of 5 reportedly suffers from acute malnutrition. An estimated 90 percent of food that the United Nation’s World Food Program transports to Sana traveled across the destroyed bridge. [Continue reading…]

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America is complicit in the carnage in Yemen

An editorial in the New York Times says: 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. [Continue reading…]

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Lopsided peace talks collapse, Saudis resume bombing Yemen and U.S. sells more weapons

The Intercept reports: The Pentagon announced an additional $1.15 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia this week, even as a three-month cease-fire collapsed and the Saudi-led coalition resumed its brutal bombing campaign of the Yemen capital Sana.

The U.S. has already sold more than $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015, defying calls from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to cut off support. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the majority of the 7,000 deaths in the conflict, which has left more than 21 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Saudi Arabia has been accused of intentionally targeting homes, factories, schools, markets, and hospitals.

On Tuesday, the coalition targeted and destroyed a potato chip factory, killing 14 people. The Yemeni press has since reported that coalition has conducted hundreds more airstrikes across the country, killing dozens of people. [Continue reading…]

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The Saudi bombardment of Yemen — worse than Russia’s assault on Syria — has been lucrative for the West

The Economist: Ninety years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field studies question this. Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, a watchdog. America supplies even more. [Continue reading…]

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As the Saudis covered up abuses in Yemen, America stood by

Samuel Oakford writes: The United Nations has long been bullied by its most powerful members, and U.N. secretaries-general have usually been forced to grit their teeth and take it quietly. But few nations have been more publicly brazen in this practice than Saudi Arabia, and earlier this summer, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon managed to get in a dig at the Kingdom over its blackmail-style tactics. Ban openly admitted that it was only after Riyadh threatened to cut off funding to the U.N. that he bowed to its demand to remove the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where it has launched a harsh military intervention, from a list of violators of children’s rights contained in the annex of his annual Children and Armed Conflict report. “The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban told reporters. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.”

But the secretary-general wasn’t done. “It is unacceptable for U.N. member states to exert undue pressure,” Ban added. The removal of the Saudis from the list was also, he claimed, “pending review.”

For the United States, it was another reminder of what an uncomfortable ally the Saudi kingdom can be (as was the July release of a hitherto classified section of a 2002 report into the 9/11 attacks that suggested, among other things, that the wife of then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan gave money to the wife of a suspected 9/11 co-conspirator). No one has become more familiar with this awkwardness than the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, the erstwhile human-rights icon (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell) who has been forced to look the other way as a powerful U.S. ally does as it pleases in Yemen with political, logistical and military cover from Washington. Since news broke of Ban’s decision, I have asked Power’s office for a direct response to Saudi funding threats. Neither she nor her staff has ever replied. [Continue reading…]

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