Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Saudi, UAE trying to avoid civilian harm in Yemen

Saudi, UAE trying to avoid civilian harm in Yemen

Pompeo's certification allows the U.S.to continue fueling coalition jets.

Meanwhile, the coalition of Arab states - which includes the UAE - fighting Yemen's Houthis accused the United Nations report of "methodological fallacies" and misinterpreting the facts of the conflict.

Human rights groups and aid organizations were quick to condemn the certification.

That toll included a widely publicized incident in which a Saudi airstrike hit a school bus, reportedly killing 40 people, including almost two dozen children.

"Pompeo's description of doing everything possible is wrong."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has "certified" that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are working to reduce risks to civilian life in Yemen - a key step to ensuring continued US support to the coalition.

Ending the war is a national security priority, Pompeo said.

The Saudi-led coalition expressed "regret over the mistakes" and pledged to hold those responsible accountable. "August was the bloodiest month so far in 2018 for civilians in Yemen".

(The Houthis and Al Qaeda have at times fought one another in Yemen.) The refueling amendment included several carveouts for specific missions, including support for operations against both Al Qaeda and ISIS in the country - though such carveouts will not be necessary with Pompeo's broader certification.

The spokesperson also said the administration has found that both nations are making efforts to end the conflict and reduce the humanitarian toll of the crisis.

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Two global organizations have suggested that Saudi Arabia and its allies may be guilty of war crimes for its actions in Yemen.

The conflict escalated the following year when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies launched a wide-ranging air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains in Yemen. It has so far failed to achieve either objective, and the war has led to widespread hunger and the spread of unsafe diseases, like cholera.

The Trump administration has expressed concern about the coalition's conduct but insisted USA support is vital to counter Iran and has resisted congressional efforts to curtail support. Others have counter-argued that American disengagement could worsen matters. Islamist groups are operating with impunity in parts of the country.

"I do think there is growing concern, although it hasn't reached the point that has translated to a change in policy", said Miller, who worked on Middle East policy on the National Security Council in the Obama administration and was a State Department official. It's not a certification - it's a rubber stamp for Saudi Arabia.

"Gulf relations are impaired by the sense among Saudis and Emiratis that all they need is Trump and Kushner, and they don't need anyone else", Miller said.

Mr. Mattis agreed, saying the Saudi-led group has shown a commitment to limit civilian deaths. Pompeo further told Congress that the administration assessed "that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen". Most of the victims were children. Some openly dismiss the coalition's professed interest in investigating itself.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch said the coalition "did not appear to consider whether the attack was lawfully proportionate or if precautions taken were adequate", and "downplayed damage to civilian structures, contradicting physical evidence".

Others, too, accuse the coalition of doing too little.

The coalition's response to the school bus strike led some to believe it would give Pompeo cover to make the certification required by the NDAA.

"There's more that can be done", Lewis, now the director of the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence at the CNA, a Washington think tank, wrote in an email.

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