Biden didn’t ban “offensive operations” in war on Yemen 

June 12, 2022 - 18:44

U.S. President Joe Biden's announcement at the State Department two weeks after winning the Presidency that he would end all U.S. support for “offensive operations” in the war on Yemen, “including relevant arms sales" to the Saudi-led coalition was ambiguous. 

The Biden administration has failed to explain in public what that entails. 

All that was revealed by the White House was new sales of air-to-ground missiles have been suspended. 

When asked about the scale of the policy that will be changed from the previous administration, the White House in most cases refused to give an answer. 

What we have learnt from Biden's announcement was that the end of "offensive operations” included the “suspension of two previously notified air-to-ground munitions sales and an ongoing review of other systems." 

A recent investigation by the Washington Post reveals how a vast number of air raids were consequently conducted in Yemen by warplanes developed, maintained, and sold by U.S. companies and by pilots trained by the U.S. military.

Despite the extension of a two-month truce, Yemeni officials have been complaining about the number of times the “Saudi-American aggression” has been violating the truce. 

Dalia Dassa Kaye, a Middle East expert at the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California at Los Angeles says “it’s hard to say definitively that the U.S. is not supporting the offensive campaign there, that remains a concern.”

“A lot of ammunition, supplies, things in the pipeline are still continuing,” she added.

Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing its southern neighbor with American weapons, logistical support as well as intelligence assistance. 

The new analysis reveals that Biden continued to support “offensive operations”, despite pledging the opposite. It shows maintenance contracts operated by the U.S. military and corporations, in addition to squadrons, remained to carry out offensive operations. 

Washington’s support for the war on Yemen began during the Obama administration and continued into Trump’s and Biden’s.

The investigation reviewed 3,000 publicly available images, media reports, videos, and news releases that identified 19 fighter jet squadrons; half of which were Saudi and Emirati, that have been supported by the U.S.

According to the research, the U.S. “provided arms, training or maintenance support to the majority of the fighter jet squadrons in the campaign.” 

The financial and military support for squadrons, according to the study entails support for offensive aircraft.

Tony Wilson, the director of Security Force Monitor says those conducting airstrikes on Yemen “there is no way for [America] to support their planes without supporting squadrons that may be linked to airstrikes that human rights groups say are apparent war crimes,”

Sales announcements never revealed which specific squadrons were benefitting, but only types of planes or the equipment that were being sold.

Evidence provided in the report suggests the U.S. military conducted joint exercises with almost every squadron from Saudi Arabia.

An analysis of news, videos, and photos shows Saudi squadrons not only received American equipment but also participated in joint exercises and training with the U.S.

Despite Biden claiming to have banned “offensive” support for the Saudi-led coalition, the White House has approved the sales of what it describes as “defensive weapons.” 

One of these sales was a $650 million package deal which included surface-to-air missiles sold to Riyadh and a boost to the Emirati missile defense system, worth $65 million.

The investigation included rich infographics depicting a level of hypocrisy at the White House.

“To have the U.S., over successive administrations, sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to governments that have carried out, over years, airstrikes on hospitals, markets, food production facilities, and prisons: [those] attacks have killed thousands of civilians,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project at Columbia University, “It does not serve them well in the court of public opinion, or in the annals of history.” 

Meanwhile, according to an internal government report, the State Department and the Defense Department have failed to assess civilian casualties caused by the war on Yemen and the use of American-made weapons in the killings.

The report from the Government Accountability Office focuses on attacks in recent years by the Saudi-led coalition’s offensives in Yemen. 

The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates have carried out deadly airstrikes using warplanes and missiles that have been sent and maintained largely by American companies with the approval of the State Department and the Pentagon.

It is the second major report by a U.S. agency that lays out government shortcomings in preventing civilian casualties in Yemen. In August 2020, the State Department inspector general also issued a report that revealed the department had failed to undertake proper measures to reduce civilian deaths.

The new report comes as President Biden is arranging to travel to Saudi Arabia in July. 

U.S. officials spoke to American media about the report on the condition of anonymity because the Government Accountability Office has not released it publicly yet. 

On the accountability office website, there is a document on the “restricted reports” page that is titled “Yemen: State and D.O.D. Need Better Information on Civilian Impacts of U.S. Military Support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” 

The publication date is April 2022, but the page says the report cannot be released to the public because the executive branch has determined they contain classified information or “controlled unclassified information.”

Officials have been reported as saying that the State Department has been in discussions with the accountability office to get parts of the report put into a classified section, The agency also reportedly wants some lines made private.

A spokesperson for the office says the Government Accountability Office expects to get the okay from the State Department and the Pentagon to release a public version this month.

Several officials are reported to have said they are concerned the State Department will hide important findings from the public through that process. 

In the 2020 report that addressed civilian casualties in Yemen, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressured the State Department’s legal office to make any major findings secret. 

Part of the reports were so heavily censored that even members of Congress could not read them.

U.S. officials claim they have taken measures to lower civilian casualties in Yemen, but the civilian death toll from airstrikes surged at the end of last year. 

The officials who spoke on condition of anonymity say the main finding in the new report is that the State Department and the Pentagon have failed to collect sufficient data and evidence on civilian casualties or monitor the use of American-made weapons.

A Pentagon official acknowledged that U.S. agencies are relying on intelligence from open sources to allegedly assess the death toll in Yemen and don’t have military personnel in the country who go to the bombed sites.

The failure to investigate the civilian death toll from U.S. airstrikes has not been limited to Yemen but across West Asia, including Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan where Washington has come under heavy scrutiny from rights organizations for its lack of care. 

The latest investigation confirms that the statement on "offensive operations" was deceptive. 

While denouncing alleged Russian attacks against civilian targets in Ukraine, the United States continues to be implicated in killing civilians and turning a blind eye to the casualties.

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