Lawmakers press Biden to track US aid tied to civilian damage in Yemen

This is the scene of an airstrike in 2016 in Yemen, on a crowded hospital in a small city called Abs. 19 people were killed and dozens were injured. The pilot ignored obvious warning signs and ignored safety measures, such as a no-attack list of protected buildings. Found in the wreckage, the remains of an American-made weapon. The United States is not officially involved here. The fighting took place between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebel group. But it was very much a US-supported war. Fighters, bombs, training and intelligence – much of which was supplied to Saudi Arabia by the US. It was a brutal war. The Houthis have killed hundreds of Yemenis. The Saudi air campaign is even more dangerous. Over four years, coalition air strikes have killed thousands of civilians and bombed more than 100 medical facilities, according to the Times. “If US fighter pilots did this directly with US bombs, would there be a change in behavior?” “What if we hit the hospital, over and over, like what we’re seeing? Surely, there will be a change. “That begs the question: What obligations does the US have when it comes to selling weapons to foreign militaries? American officials insist their allies are doing everything they can to protect civilians. But this is simply not true, according to Larry Lewis, a former State Department official who has seen first-hand the failure of the Saudi coalition to protect civilians and how the US chooses to view it. other. “Yemen has exposed a fundamental problem in how we deliver weapons and how we support our partners. So we need to change the way we do business.” Lewis spent many years working with US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to try to reduce civilian casualties. He wrote a book on protecting civilians that was released to every American soldier in Afghanistan. And in 2015, the Obama administration sent him to work with the Saudi coalition in Riyadh. “There are some fundamental issues with how some of the targeting is being done that really need to be fixed.” While there, he reviewed the strike at Abs hospital with an investigative team he helped set up the Saudi coalition. “What did you learn from watching that strike against Saudi Arabia?” “You look at the destruction of nearby buildings and go, the pilot was wrong.” Let’s take a look at what happened there. Coalition warplanes hit a Houthi checkpoint a few miles north of Abs. Medics say a car took the casualties to Abs hospital after the strike. The Saudi-led coalition tracked the vehicle, believing a Houthi leader was inside. For some reason, they didn’t attack it on the open road. Instead, they waited until the car pulled over to the hospital. It was parked next to the emergency room and was hit without warning. Three major failures were evident in the Abs attack, Lewis said, and these were repeated throughout the Saudi-led air campaign. “Doctors Without Borders says they have provided hospital coordinates to the Saudi coalition.” “That’s right.” “So why are they still hitting it?” “That information doesn’t get into the cockpit.” The Saudi-led coalition is often praised by the United States for creating a no-attack list, maps of protected locations such as schools, refugee camps and hospitals. This list is used to check targets when airstrikes are planned in advance. But that doesn’t happen for the majority of attacks, which are direct bombings or so-called dynamic attacks. “What can be done to limit the number of dynamic strikes or at least force them to check the alert list?” “Um. This is not rocket science. It’s not hard to get the pilots to call back to higher headquarters and say, check the no-strike list and tell me if this object is on the no-strike list or something nearby. that’s not. It will take a minute or two. “Another problem? Lewis said the pilots seem to ignore the large signs on the roof to identify hospitals, including the one in Abs. We can see six of them in the picture. satellite images were taken before the strike. “You have a pilot who doesn’t really have experience, and then you have someone, not even a soldier, who agrees on what they think is the target. valid. Muhammad Darm was seriously injured in the attack. He was an X-ray technician who was helping patients near the hospital entrance when the bomb went off. He’s almost He has returned to work in the hospital. Once a sanctuary during the war, he says it no longer feels safe. For years, officials in both the Obama and Trump administrations said they were working directly with Saudi Arabia to prevent civilian casualties. “I think every Yemeni person is killed – any innocent person is killed – it affects all of us. And there are many steps that are being taken, and have been taken, to try to mitigate that.” “We know we’ve trained them and it’s paid off.” “We are joining them in locating their operations centers to help them develop techniques and tactics that will allow them to launch attacks while reducing civilian casualties.” But one problem with US surveillance, Lewis said: The US didn’t track how the American weapons it sold were used by a Saudi military with little experience in war. In 2018, three years of conflict, the head of US Central Command said as much. “Can CENTCOM know if U.S. fuel or U.S. bombs and ammunition were used as part of that attack?” “Senator, I don’t believe we are.” Lewis said they had access to that information. They just don’t use it. “Every flight of the Saudi-led coalition where they do an airstrike, that pilot then makes a report about what the target was, what kind of weapons they used and only information about the attack. They’ll send it in and then it’ll populate this Excel spreadsheet with all the strikes in the campaign. “And did the US and the UK have access to that database? “They did.” “So if the US wanted to know if American bombs bombed hospitals, they could do so? “”Yes.” A year later, after reporters revealed the database, General Votel changed his mind. that information and we have the ability to see it.” Lewis says the database could be a tool to strengthen U.S. surveillance of foreign arms purchases. A State Department official told us that this type of data could be included in the agency’s surveillance process, but that checking it can be very difficult and it may be of no use to other countries. After a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a funeral home that killed more than 150 people in late 2016, the Obama administration, who brokered $100 billion in arms sales, has now seek to separate the United States from the alliance.” And their response is clearly that the Saudis are not learning.” It halted the sale of precision weapons, and began Lewis’ advisory duties. “The US says it’s up to Saudi Arabia to do their job and investigate themselves.” When President Trump took office, the US doubled arms sales. “So we make the best devices in the world. No one was even near. And Saudi Arabia is buying a lot of this equipment.” In Yemen, things for civilians continue to get worse. In 2018, the civilian casualty rate of the Saudi-led coalition skyrocketed to nearly 50 people a week, Lewis said. And in Abs, history repeats itself. However, another medical facility was attacked in June of that year. The airstrike destroyed a vital cholera treatment center built by Doctors Without Borders to handle the worst outbreak of the disease in modern history. The Saudi coalition tried to blame Doctors Without Borders, saying its buildings were not marked. But again, satellite images from before the attack show large red cracks visible, even from space. And Doctors Without Borders says it has shared the coordinates of the center at least 12 times. The Saudis deny this. The US sells weapons to more than 100 countries, but in Yemen, the scale of the devastation has become the story. And for those who live there, it’s the new normal.

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