The United States will continue to support Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) alliance in Yemen, despite international criticism over civilian casualties, a senior official has said.
US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis said support for the Saudi-UAE alliance is not “unconditional” but suggested that the US will continue to support it as it works to reduce civilian casualties.
The US has been working with Saudi Arabia to improve the accuracy of air strikes and recognised that potential violations have occurred. “We recognise every mistake like this is tragic in every way, but we have not seen any callous disregard by the people we’re working with,” Mattis said. “So we will continue to work with them.”
“Our conduct there is to try to keep the human cost of innocents being killed accidentally to the absolute minimum […] Our goal is to reduce this tragedy and to get it to the UN-brokered table as quickly as possible,” Mattis said.
US ‘warning’ over killings
The comments follow the Pentagon warning Saudi Arabia that it would reduce military and intelligence support if the Saudis fail to demonstrate that they are attempting to limit civilian casualties in air strikes.
US concerns were raised following a catastrophic strike on a school bus that killed 40 children earlier this month. Experts have said the bomb used in the attack was sold to Saudi as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal.
The conflict in Yemen escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies, including the UAE, launched a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. The group had taken control of the capital, Sanaa, and large swathes of the country forcing the internationally backed government into exile.
Yesterday an expert UN panel said air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen have caused heavy civilian casualties and some may amount to war crimes.
The UN expert panel also blamed fighters of the Houthi group, saying they had fired missiles into Saudi Arabia and shelled the Yemeni city of Taiz. It accused them of committing torture and deploying child soldiers, both war crimes.
The UN report is the first United Nations investigation into possible war crimes in Yemen although international human rights groups have regularly documented abuses. It was released ahead of UN peace talks between the internationally backed government of President Abd Mansur Rabbuh Hadi and the Houthis scheduled for 6 September in Geneva.
The Saudi-led coalition said it had referred the report to its legal team for review.
While Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, said that the “coalition is fulfilling its role in reclaiming the Yemeni state and securing the future of the region from Iranian interference.” Adding that the UAE will “review and respond” to the UN report.
The US has executed hundreds of drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen since 2002, often killing civilians. The US government has already executed 324 confirmed strikes, and reportedly killing some 1,362 Yemenis. Due to the lack of transparency and accountability, many of the killings go unnoticed or without any legal recourse for justice.