Extracts taken from Jacobin magazine https://jacobinmag.com/2021/04/crisis-yemen-saudi-united-states-arms-sales-starvation
“233,000 Yemenis had died from the conflict, with most resulting from indirect causes like malnutrition and disease.”
The USA had long maintained a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, offering it tens of billions of dollars in sales of military hardware including fighter jets and missiles. To support the war effort, not only did the sales continue, American jets refueled Saudi jets in mid-air and American intelligence provided targeting assistance. When Saudi Arabia stationed war ships off Yemen’s coast in 2015, blockading the country, the United States stood by — despite the fact that Yemen imports 90 percent of its food and forced starvation is a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
Donald Trump enthusiastically supported the Saudi war effort in Yemen, though he did end the aerial refueling of the kingdom’s jets. Despite an airstrike on a Yemeni school bus full of children with an American bomb, and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s apparent involvement in the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump refused to sign a bipartisan war powers bill sent to his desk in May 2020 aimed at ending US intelligence, refueling, and logistical support to Saudi-led coalition.
Trump also allowed weapons manufacturer Raytheon to produce smart bomb parts inside the Saudi Arabia to be used in Yemen. He reportedly even boasted to journalist Bob Woodward that he had “saved” the Saudi crown prince after Khashoggi’s murder.
Yemen, which has spent decades transitioning from one bloody conflict to another, was already the poorest country in the Arab world when the war began. As the war dragged on, the situation on the ground deteriorated, precipitating an economic collapse.
In Yemen’s north, Saudi jets have dropped American bombs on farmland, hospitals, schools, and marketplaces, while Houthis have shelled populated areas and their snipers have targeted children and the elderly. Both sides have allegedly used child soldiers.
“Civil wars, when they are funded by external powers, can go on for decades because there’s more and more resources and no incentive to stop,”
Thanks to the years of upheaval, Yemen is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In February, the United Nations warned that the country was headed toward the worst famine the world has seen in decades. As many as 16.2 million Yemenis are food insecure, and nearly a third of all families have nutritional gaps in their diet.
Yemen also suffers from a shortage of clean water, medicine, and medical infrastructure. According to UNICEF, only about half of the country’s five thousand prewar health facilities were functional as of January — and those that were operating were plagued by “extreme shortages” of medicine, equipment, and staff.
The country is ground zero for the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, and faces the COVID-19 pandemic with diminished medical capacity. The numbers for the virus are not well-documented, but all indications point to a serious crisis.
The crisis has been particularly devastating for children, who made up a quarter of the civilian casualties over the past three years. According to the World Food Programme, as many as 2.3 million children under five are suffering acute malnutrition and require medical treatment. In 2018, the UN estimated that every ten minutes, a child was dying in Yemen.
In total, as of last December, 233,000 Yemenis had died from the conflict, with most resulting from indirect causes like malnutrition and disease.
In the face of the deepening crisis, international aid to the country has been falling. Between 2018 and 2020, funding dropped from $5 billion to $2 billion, according to the UN.
A Policy of Denial
On the campaign trail, Biden promised to alleviate the suffering in Yemen through a reevaluation of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and withdrawal of US support for the war, which has failed to reinstall Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Hadi, the country’s deposed president, has reportedly been living in Saudi Arabia since 2017.
Initially, it looked like Biden might make good on his promises. In February, he announced that he would be “ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” The administration also released an intelligence report blaming the Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder.
But days after declaring it would end support for offensives in Yemen, the Biden administration clarified that it would continue to support “defensive” operations in the country. And a few days before the release of the Khashoggi report, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — who previously served on Raytheon’s board — took a call with the Saudi crown prince, assuring him of America’s commitment to an ongoing partnership.
Last month, after CNN reported that Saudi Arabia was violating a UN agreement by continuing its blockade of the Yemeni port of Hodeida, the Biden administration provided cover. Lenderking, the administration’s envoy to Yemen, challenged the veracity of CNN’s report.
To date, the State department’s official position is that Saudi Arabia is not blockading Yemen, because some supplies are entering the country and Saudi vessels are voluntarily acting on orders of the deposed Hadi government, which operates out of Saudi Arabia.
At the House hearing, Lenderking reiterated this position, stating that food was entering Hodeida and inaccurately claiming that fuel restrictions were a relatively recent development.
The administration has indicated it wants to broker a ceasefire with the help of the UN. But behind the scenes, it has continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE, which is currently supporting militia fighters fighting for independence from the Hadi government.
A Yemini civilian at a medical facility suffering from acute malnutrition. (Photo courtesy Mona Relief)
Earlier this month, nearly eighty Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Biden urging the government to adopt a more aggressive approach to end the blockade. Then, two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a similar letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Ending this practice will boost Yemen’s economy, de-escalate the conflict, and prevent this humanitarian catastrophe from worsening — all important U.S. objectives,” read the Blinken letter.
But at the House foreign affairs subcommittee hearing on the matter this week, Lenderking, Biden’s Yemen envoy, made clear that the administration’s biggest concern wasn’t the devastating Saudi blockade, but instead a current Houthi offensive in the country’s oil-rich region of Ma’rib — the last Hadi stronghold in northern Yemen.
Lenderking called the Houthi incursion in the area, which experts say could deliver a decisive blow against the Hadi government in exile, the “single biggest threat to peace efforts” and warned it was having “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Lenderking added that, “If we do not stop the fighting in Ma’rib now, it will trigger a wave of even greater fighting and instability,” and he called on the international community and regional actors like Oman to take steps to stop the offensive.
Lenderking did not answer questions at the hearings about US support for coalition military operations that many say are prolonging the country’s suffering.