How the U.S. government condemns or ignores indiscriminate bombing

Micah Zenko writes: If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.”

Col. Warren went further to castigate Russia for its use of one particular type of ordinance: “You know, there’s been reporting that the Russians are using cluster munitions in Syria, which we also find to be irresponsible. These munitions have a high dud rate, they can cause damage and they can hurt civilians, and they’re just, you know, not good.”

That cluster munitions are “not good,” except as a reliable method for killing noncombatants outside of an intended target field, is a well-known and established fact. According to one UN estimate, the failure rates for cluster munitions vary from between 2 and 5 percent (according to manufacturers) to between 10 and 30 percent (according to mine clearance personnel). They were subsequently banned by the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in August 2010 and has been endorsed by ninety-eight states parties. Notable states that have refused to sign and ratify the convention include those that consistently uses airpower to achieve their military objectives, such as Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]


Yemen hospital hit by Saudi-led air strike: Medecins Sans Frontieres

Reuters reports: A hospital in north Yemen run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was bombed in a Saudi-led air strike, wrecking the facility and lightly wounding two staff members, the group said on Tuesday.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore its government after its toppling by Iran-allied Houthi forces, but a mounting civilian death toll has alarmed human rights groups.

“Our hospital in the Heedan district of Saada governorate was hit several times. Fortunately, the first hit damaged the operations theater while it was empty and the staff were busy with people in the emergency room. They just had time to run off as another missile hit the maternity ward,” MSF country director Hassan Boucenine told Reuters by telephone from Yemen.

“It could be a mistake, but the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided (the coalition) with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Yemen is shattered and peace seems a long way off. The world can’t just watch on

Farea Al-Muslimi and Rafat Al-Akhali write: “For us, the future is lost. There is no hope.” That’s what Ali Ahmad told BBC interviewers who were trying to find out what life was like under the current war in Yemen. Ali comes from Taiz, a governorate that has for months been under siege by the militias of former president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh, and those of the Houthi rebel movement.

Taiz epitomises the suffering of people across Yemen: as the city suffers not only from the shelling and siege of militias, but also from the airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition (such as the airstrike targeting a wedding in September and killing more than 130 civilians, according to the UN high commissioner for human rights) and the wider blockade that the coalition is enforcing on commercialand humanitarian shipments to the country.

As the poorest country in the Arab world is collapsing in front of the world’s eyes, a whole generation of Yemeni youth and children are losing their future. The military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen is nearing its seven-month mark, with arms and wide-ranging logistical, technical, and intelligence support from the United Kingdom and the United States and otherwestern allies. This war has resulted in an “nearly incomprehensible” scale of human suffering, according to the UN humanitarian chief. [Continue reading…]


Could the Saudis be dragging the U.S. into a war crimes scandal?

PRI reports: Thirteen liberal legislators have put President Barack Obama on the spot for his support of Saudi Arabia’s unchecked war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has been guided by US intelligence, flying American fighter jets and dropping US-made bombs.

A Human Rights Watch researcher has put the death toll from the incursion at 2,355 civilians since March.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingel and her colleagues reminded the president in a letter last week that Saudi Arabia, America’s strongest Arab ally and best weapons customer is behaving badly in Yemen, and could be dragging the US into a war crimes scandal. “With this level of active involvement in the campaign,” the letter reads, “we are concerned that some overseas may hold the United States responsible for any civilian casualties resulting from the bombing.”

Many Yemenis already hold America — and the UK — responsible for Saudi actions. [Continue reading…]


Syria: New Russian-made cluster munition reported

Human Rights Watch: An advanced type of Russian cluster munition was used in an airstrike southwest of Aleppo on October 4, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The use of the weapon near the village of Kafr Halab raises grave concerns that Russia is either using cluster munitions in Syria or providing the Syrian air force with new types of cluster munitions to use.

New photographs and videos also suggest renewed use of air-dropped cluster munitions as well as ground-fired Russian-made cluster munition rockets as part of the joint Russian-Syrian offensive in northern Syria.

“It’s disturbing that yet another type of cluster munition is being used in Syria given the harm they cause to civilians for years to come,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Neither Russia nor Syria should use cluster munitions, and both should join the international ban without delay.” [Continue reading…]

Last month, Human Rights Watch researcher, Ole Solvang, wrote about Saudi Arabia’s use of cluster bombs in Yemen: Cluster munitions were used in Yemen in past wars and now Saudi Arabia and members of its coalition are dropping bombs and launching rockets with this indiscriminate weapon on populated areas.

The U.S. is providing logistical and intelligence support for the coalition, and if it is providing targeting assistance for cluster munition strikes, it could be complicit in resulting laws-of-war violations. What’s more, the evidence we found of cluster rocket use just a few weeks ago showed that they were manufactured by U.S. companies. U.S. officials have expressed concern at the use of cluster munitions by Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Sudan yet when it comes to the use of cluster munitions by the coalition in Yemen, the U.S. has been silent. [Continue reading…]


Amnesty tells the U.S. to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Mother Jones reports: Citing “damning evidence of war crimes,” Amnesty International has condemned America’s continued support of Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen. In a report released yesterday, the human-rights organization called on the United States to stop selling bombs, fighter jets, and combat helicopters to the Saudis

The nearly seven-month-old conflict, which pits Saudi Arabia and a coalition of allied states against anti-government rebels, has claimed thousands of civilian lives. More than two-thirds of those were killed by Saudi-led air strikes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. While Saudi Arabia claims to only be targeting military targets, bombs have been dropped on power stations, water supplies, schools, hospitals, and a camp for displaced people.

The United States has been aiding the Saudi-led coalition with weaponry, logistics, and intelligence support. Washington and Riyadh inked $90 billion in arms deals between 2010 and 2014, and at least another $7.8 billion in new arms deals have been announced since Saudi Arabia’s air campaign began in March. Among the remnants of American-made bombs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have found on the ground in Yemen are two types of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are banned by more than 100 countries because of the risk they pose to civilians. [Continue reading…]


As Saudis block a human rights inquiry in Yemen, America stays quiet

Vice News reports: A Dutch-led effort to create a human rights mission for Yemen was abandoned Wednesday amid intense Saudi opposition at the UN, but human rights experts are laying blame in part at the feet of the United States, which failed to vigorously back the Netherlands — and may have worked behind the scenes to head off the independent investigation.

A Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen since late March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels and their allies and reinstate the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The US (and UK) offers logistical support for the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weapons to its members, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. US officials say American personnel are also involved in providing targeting assistance for airstrikes, which the UN says are responsible for the majority of the more than 2,300 civilian deaths in the conflict in the past six months.

In September, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international inquiry into crimes committed in Yemen in the preceding year. Shortly after, the Netherlands, supported by several European countries, presented a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Among other elements, it called for a human rights mission, commissioned by Zeid, to be sent to Yemen, and for that team to be allowed access to all areas of the country.

Multiple sources familiar with negotiations in Geneva, where the HRC is located, said the Dutch initially encountered objections from the Yemeni government, as well as from the Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis — all three of whom currently sit on the council.

The Saudis and other Arab members of the council then introduced an alternative text, which called for the UN to only assist an existing national inquiry in Yemen, established by the government in exile in Riyadh, which supports the Saudi-led intervention. Human rights and civil society groups considered it unacceptable, both due to its content and because it was introduced by a belligerent in Yemen’s war. They offered public support to the Dutch.

Largely quiet on the matter was the United States. After multiple requests for comment on whether the American government supported an international, independent human rights inquiry for Yemen, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released an ambiguously worded statement on September 24. [Continue reading…]


Saudi objections halt UN inquiry of Yemen war

The New York Times reports: In a U-turn at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western governments dropped plans Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians in the last six months.

The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew the draft of a resolution it had prepared with support from a group of mainly Western countries that instructed the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.

That proposal was a follow-up to recommendations by the commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who detailed in a report this month the heavy civilian loss of life inflicted not only by the relentless airstrikes of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia but also by the indiscriminate shelling carried out by Houthi rebels. [Continue reading…]


Airstrikes hit wedding in Yemen; as many as 135 dead

The Los Angeles Times reports: Airstrikes devastated a wedding party in southern Yemen on Monday, killing and injuring dozens, witnesses said. Medics put the death toll as high as 135, including many women and children, in the latest bombardment reported to have caused large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries.

The Saudi-led air offensive in Yemen, now in its seventh month, has killed at least 3,500 people, perhaps half of them civilians, according to aid groups.

Some witnesses suggested that tents put up to accommodate guests at wedding festivities outside the Red Sea port of Mokha might have been mistaken for military encampments of pro-government troops and their allies. At least two tents were hit in a series of strikes.

The attack, one of a string involving large numbers of civilian casualties, came as the Yemen conflict was under scrutiny at the United Nations. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blamed all combatants for demonstrating a “disregard for human life,” but said most fatalities and injuries were being caused by the campaign of airstrikes that began in March. [Continue reading…]


Why Obama’s drone war has failed in Yemen

Jillian Schwedler writes: The narrative that the West, and especially the United States, fears the Muslim world is powerful and pervasive in the region. The U.S. intervenes regularly in regional politics and is a steadfast ally of Israel. It supports Saudi Arabia and numerous other authoritarian regimes that allow it to establish permanent U.S. military bases on Arab land. It cares more about oil and Israel than it does about the hundreds of millions in the region suffering under repressive regimes and lacking the most basic human securities. These ideas about the American role in Middle East affairs – many of them true – are among those in wide circulation in the region.

Al-Qaida has since 1998 advanced the argument that Muslims need to take up arms against the United States and its allied regimes in the region. Yet al-Qaida’s message largely fell on deaf ears in Yemen for many years. Yes, it did attract some followers, mostly those disappointed to have missed the chance to fight as mujahidin in Afghanistan. But al-Qaida’s narrative of attacking the foreign enemy at home did not resonate widely. The movement remained isolated for many years, garnering only limited sympathy from the local communities in which they sought refuge.

The dual effect of U.S. acceleration in drone strikes since 2010 and of their continued use during the “transitional” period that was intended to usher in more accountable governance has shown Yemenis how consistently their leaders will cede sovereignty and citizens’ security to the United States. While Yemenis may recognize that AQAP does target the United States, the hundreds of drone strikes are viewed as an excessive response. The weak sovereignty of the Yemeni state is then treated as the “problem” that has allowed AQAP to expand, even as state sovereignty has been directly undermined by U.S. policy – both under President Ali Abdullah Salih and during the transition. American “security” is placed above Yemeni security, with Yemeni sovereignty violated repeatedly in service of that cause. Regardless of what those in Washington view as valid and legitimate responses to “terrorist” threats, the reality for Yemenis is that the United States uses drone strikes regularly to run roughshod over Yemeni sovereignty in an effort to stop a handful of attacks — most of them failed — against U.S. targets. The fact that corrupt Yemeni leaders consent to the attacks makes little difference to public opinion. [Continue reading…]


Arab coalition bombs Yemen’s capital, killing dozens

The New York Times reports: The airstrikes [overnight on Saturday] hit the headquarters of the Interior Ministry and a military honor guard [in Sana, the Yemeni capital], killing at least 17 security and military personnel, according to government officials and witnesses. But several of the targets appeared to have no military value, witnesses said.

One set of airstrikes crushed a group of houses, killing at least 10 members of one family and destroying at least two other houses, all in the Old City, which has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years.

Other bombs struck an underpass, damaging a passing truck, as well as a four-story residential building.

The aerial campaign has helped coalition forces advance in parts of Yemen, but has been marked by a persistent imprecision that has led to the deaths of more than a thousand civilians, according to human rights groups. The warplanes have bombed homes, markets, refugee camps and hospitals, but the coalition has consistently refused to acknowledge any culpability for the deaths. [Continue reading…]


The war in Yemen as a rite of passage

Rami G. Khouri writes: The Saudi-led war in Yemen is one of the most dangerous and paradoxical developments in the region in recent decades. The six-month conflict continues to intensify and attract troops from other Arab countries, threatening to exacerbate violence and insecurity across the Middle East.

The war in Yemen is a rite of passage for members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are asserting their power and the maturity of their statehood by launching a war against a weaker neighbor. It is equally driven by their exaggerated but nonetheless real fear of growing Iranian influence in the region. The Saudis were especially terrified of being surrounded by Iran’s involvement in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and finally in Yemen, given Tehran’s links with the Houthis.

Half a year into the war, the risks of this venture are just becoming clear for the Saudis and their allies. The aerial bombings that began in March have failed to wrest back control of all Yemen from the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who late last year swept into Sana’a and dissolved the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia and its multi-nation coalition are expected to launch ground operations, which could threaten and burden the region for years. This may also increase local and global terrorism threats by providing Al-Qaeda with a substantial territorial base similar to that of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). [Continue reading…]


Saudi-led coalition accused of collectively punishing civilians in Yemen war

The New York Times reports: The airstrike slammed into Al-Sham water-bottling plant at the end of the night shift, killing 13 workers who were minutes away from heading home.

Standing among the strewn bottles, smoldering boxes and pulverized machines a few days after the airstrike here, the owner, Ibrahim al-Razoom, searched in vain for any possible reason that warplanes from a Saudi-led military coalition would have attacked the place.

Nothing in the ruins suggested the factory was used for making bombs, as a coalition spokesman had claimed. And it was far from any military facility that would explain the strike as a tragic mistake: For miles around, there was nothing but desert scrub.

“It never occurred to me that this would be hit,” Mr. Razoom said.

Of the many perils Yemen’s civilians have faced during the last six months of war, with starvation looming and their cities crumbling under heavy weapons, none have been as deadly as the coalition airstrikes. What began as a Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthis, the rebel militia movement that forced Yemen’s government from power, has become so broad and vicious that critics accuse the coalition of collectively punishing people living in areas under Houthi control. [Continue reading…]


Yemen’s descent into a prolonged and uncontrollable war

The Economist reports: The start of this month may well come to be seen as the moment that Yemen descended into a prolonged and uncontrollable war. The conflict in the desperately poor nation was already going horribly badly. But the Saudi-led coalition fighting the country’s Houthi rebels has now intensified its campaign, after 60 of its soldiers were killed in a single attack in Maarib on September 4th.

More troops have poured in since the attack. Saudi Arabia dispatched more elite forces to join the 3,000-strong coalition force already on the ground, while Qatar, hitherto only participating in air operations, has sent 1,000 soldiers. Egypt, which has long warned of the folly of putting boots on the ground given its disastrous intervention in the 1960s, this week sent in 800 men. Sudanese troops are reportedly waiting to be shipped out of Khartoum. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said his two sons will join the battle.

The coalition has since unleashed an unprecedented flurry of air strikes in both the northern governorate of Saada, the stronghold of the Houthi rebels, and the country’s capital, Sana’a. Residents say as many civilian as military targets are being hit, including houses, restaurants and main streets. “The coalition has gone wacko since the attack,” says Hassan Boucenine, who heads the Yemen office of Médicins sans Frontières, a charity. [Continue reading…]


Saudi-led offensive in Yemen faces dangerous new phase

Iona Craig writes: When young garage mechanic Aidaroos Saleh heard the familiar ping of his smartphone, he could never have imagined the journey on which the incoming message would take him. In a matter of weeks, Saleh, 22, went from fixing cars in his adopted country of Saudi Arabia to the battle front of his southern Yemen homeland.

The message was an official communication, a call to arms for Yemenis in Saudi Arabia to join a fighting force that would “defend Aden” — the southern Yemeni city that descended into civil war in mid-March. Four months after he responded to the message in April, the young fighter sat cradling an AK-47 assault rifle between his knees in the scorching heat of Aden.

“They promised us salaries and medical care abroad if we got injured in Yemen,” he said, wearing glasses, sandals and a mawaz, which is like a sarong. He and his cohort received neither.

Those who joined up were sent to the Saudi border town of Sharurah — in the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert — where they should have received military training to prepare them for deployment in Aden.

This desert camp of some 6,000 Yemeni volunteers was the origin of the kingdom’s Operation Golden Arrow, a ground offensive launched in Yemen in July that now looks set to move in on the capital, Sanaa. This latest phase of operations in Yemen follows consecutive aerial campaigns carried out since March as part of the Saudi-led coalition of nations bid to restore Yemen’s President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he fled to Riyadh earlier this year.

But in order to bring Hadi back, the coalition has first set itself the task of removing the Houthis and military units loyal to his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who seized control of the capital almost a year ago. [Continue reading…]


Qatar deploys 1,000 ground troops to fight in Yemen

Al Jazeera reports: Around 1,000 soldiers from Qatar’s Armed Forces have been deployed to Yemen, as part of the Arab coalition’s fight against Houthi rebels, Al Jazeera has learned.

An Al Jazeera journalist, reporting from the Saudi-Yemen border, said the troops were backed by more than 200 armoured vehicles and 30 Apache combat helicopters.

The troops are now reportedly heading to Yemen’s Maareb province, to join the Saudi-led coalition already fighting in the area.

Al Jazeera has also learned that more Qatari forces are expected, with the aim of securing the Jawf governorate. [Continue reading…]


Coalition attacks Yemen capital after UAE, Saudi soldiers killed

Reuters reports: Warplanes from the United Arab Emirates struck Houthi targets across Yemen, state news agency WAM said on Saturday, a day after at least 60 soldiers from a Saudi-led coalition, mostly Emiratis, were killed in an attack in central Yemen.

Medical sources at hospitals in the capital Sanaa, which has been under effective control of the Iranian-allied Houthi militia for almost a year, said about 24 civilians were killed in the city as a result of the attacks.

WAM said the UAE air force struck a mine-making plant in the Houthi-dominated Saada province in northern Yemen, as well as military camps and weapon stores in the central Ibb province, causing “heavy damage”.

Apart from 45 Emiratis and five Bahrainis, Saudi state-run Al Ekhbariya TV reported on Saturday that 10 Saudi soldiers were also killed in the attack in Marib province on Friday, quoting Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, the coalition spokesman.

Asiri told Al Arabiya TV that four Yemeni soldiers were also killed in the attack on the coalition base in Marib.

Friday’s death toll was the highest for the coalition since it began its assault on the Houthis in March, and is one of the worst losses of life in the history of the UAE military. [Continue reading…]


Lost generation: In war-torn Middle East, 14 million school-age children are not in school

The Associated Press reports: Forty percent of children from five conflict-scarred Middle Eastern countries are not attending school, the United Nations agency for children said Thursday, warning that losing this generation will lead to more militancy, migration and a dim future for the region.

An estimated 13.7 million school age children from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan are not in school, out of a total of 34 million, UNICEF said.

The dropout rate could increase to 50 percent in coming months as conflicts intensify, Peter Salama, the agency’s regional chief, told The Associated Press.

“We are on the verge of losing a generation of children in this region,” he said. “We must act now or we will certainly regret the consequences.” [Continue reading…]