As tens of thousands of Yemenis mark the two years of war that have claimed the lives of over 4,000 civilians and brought the country "to the brink of famine," there are signs the United States' already tainted role in the conflict may be set for escalation.
Al Jazeera reports that as many as 100,000 Yemenis took part in a Sunday rally in the capital of Sanaa "to mark the second anniversary of a war between a Saudi-led military coalition and rebels who had overthrown the government."
At the Houthi-rebel organized event, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh made a brief appearance, and "[m]any waved the red, white, and black national colors and chanted against an air campaign targeting the rebels," the news outlet adds. Media posted to Twitter of the rally show a huge crowd:
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.
In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Mattis said that "limited support" for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port—would help combat a "common threat."
Getting rid of those restrictions "would enable the military to support Emirati operations against the Houthis with surveillance and intelligence, refueling, and operational planning assistance without asking for case-by-case White House approval," the Post adds.
Yet an offensive to seize that port, Hodeidah, from the Houthis who hold it could portend further humanitarian disaster.
"If there were a serious disruption to that port, that would, I think, be sufficient to tip the country into famine," the Huffington Post reported Jeremy Konyndyk, who was the director of foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development until January, as saying.
And already, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien said in statement (pdf) Sunday: "Man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine. Today nearly 19 million Yemenis—over two-thirds of the population—need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation."
In another development, as Common Dreams wrote this month,
unnamed officials told the New York Times [that] the Trump administration has already declared "parts of three provinces of Yemen to be an 'area of active hostilities,'' which reporter Charlie Savage notes "opened the door" to the late January raid that killed dozens of Yemeni civilians and a U.S service member, as well as the "largest-ever series of American airstrikes targeting Yemen-based Qaeda militants, starting nearly two weeks ago."
Further, writes CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin,
just before leaving office in December 2016, when faced with increased pressure from human rights groups and lawmakers after a Saudi strike on a Yemeni funeral killed at least 140 people, President Obama put a halt of the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis.
Trump's State Department already gave notice to Congress that they have approved a resumption of these sales. If there is no objection from Congress and President Trump signs off on the deal, the deal will go through. Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales, saying that new US arms could be used to devastate civilian lives in Yemen and could "implicate your administration in war crimes."
Despite this context, the "shameful war now extends into a second presidential administration and a new Congress that seem even more enthused by it," writes Micah Zenko, senior fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relation.
The reason why, journalist Iona Craig said to "Intercepted" last week, is because "it's good business."
"In the first year of the war, the U.S. sold 20 billion dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia has been buying more and more weapons as a result of this war," she said to host Jeremy Scahill. "It's the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world." She noted the country's nearly full dependence on food imports and the fact that the Saudi-led coalition has enforced a blockade and the Houthi rebels have also blocked access to food and aid.
"At this rate, the U.S. is liable to be owning a famine in Yemen, and along with the rest of the international community, as long as they keep supplying Saudi Arabia with not just the weapons," but also keep providing support by refueling aricraft—and without that U.S. support, she said, the Saudis would be forced to stop the bombing.
In a statement marking the two years of conflict, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Friday, "Two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths, and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health, and security—enough is enough."
"Twenty-one million Yemenis—82 percent of the population—are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance," Zeid said.