Last Friday, former U.S. official Bruce Riedel told the House Intelligence Committee that the United States could take immediate action to end Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, where an estimated 100,000 people have died since the war began in 2015.
Riedel, a senior fellow and director at the Brookings Institution, formerly spent thirty years working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He has served as a senior adviser to the last four U.S. Presidents.
In his September 11, 2020, appearance before Congress, Riedel said that “only the United States of America and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom continue to provide the kind of support that allows this war to go on.”
"In his September 11, 2020, appearance before Congress, Riedel said that 'only the United States of America and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom continue to provide the kind of support that allows this war to go on.' "
He identified several immediate steps that the United States could take to end the war, which include: withdrawing U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, reducing U.S. training of Saudi military forces, ending new U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and suspending logistics support to the Royal Saudi Air Force.
“The United States provides about two-thirds of the aircraft in the Royal Saudi Air Force,” Riedel explained. “The United Kingdom provides the other third.” If the United States and United Kingdom cut off logistics support, he said, the Royal Saudi Air Force would be grounded and unable to operate.
“That’s how much influence we have over them,” Riedel said. “That’s how much responsibility we have.”
The war in Yemen began in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign against the Houthis, a rebel movement that had taken control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. With support from the United States and the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia organized an international coalition that sought to crush the Houthis and return the previous government to power.
“The Saudis, everyone knows, are the key player in Yemen,” a senior State Department official said earlier this year. “They lead the coalition, and the U.S. engages closely with them on Yemen issues.”
"The war has also shattered Yemen’s economy and public services. The United Nations reports that Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world."
The Saudi-led war has been devastating to the people of Yemen. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, an organization that is funded by the United States and Europe, more than 112,000 people have died in the war so far.
The war has also shattered Yemen’s economy and public services. The United Nations reports that Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. About 80 percent of the population requires some kind of humanitarian assistance. An estimated two-thirds of Yemenis are struggling with hunger. Only half of the country’s health facilities are fully operational, leaving Yemen facing serious challenges in addressing the coronavirus.
“Yemen remains a tortured land, with its people ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity,” Kamel Jendoubi, the chair of a group of experts at the United Nations, said earlier this month.
A recent report by a United Nations group of experts blames all parties to the conflict for their blatant disregard for Yemeni lives. It notes that all parties have committed human rights violations and that third parties such as the United States have perpetuated the crisis by providing arms to combatants.
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According to Riedel, U.S. involvement puts the United States “in a position where we are seen as an ally of Saudi Arabia in a murderous campaign against the poorest country in the Arab world.”
Congress has made several efforts to reduce U.S. involvement in the war. In 2018, it successfully pressured the Trump Administration to halt aerial refueling of Saudi-coalition aircraft, which have been striking Yemeni civilians with bombs made in the United States.
But President Donald Trump vetoed resolutions passed by Congress in 2019 to end U.S. involvement in the war and block U.S. arms sales to Gulf nations, continuing U.S. support for the Saudi-led military operation.
"But President Donald Trump vetoed resolutions passed by Congress in 2019 to end U.S. involvement in the war and block U.S. arms sales to Gulf nations, continuing U.S. support for the Saudi-led military operation."
The Trump Administration has been a strong supporter of the war. Administration officials argue that the Houthis are a proxy force for Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly once urged the Saudi-led coalition to “kick the shit” out of the Houthis.
Administration officials are especially worried about losing control of the Bab-el-Mandeb, a strait along the western coast of Yemen that is a strategic route for the region’s oil and gas shipments. In 2018, an estimated 6.2 million barrels of oil and other petroleum products passed through the strait on a daily basis.
“A possible stop in commercial shipping through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait would have a significant impact on the world economy, and it is in all our interest to prevent such a spillage or stoppage,” Navy Captain William Urban, the lead spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, said earlier this year.
During the September 11 hearing, U.S. Representative Peter Welch, Democrat from Vermont, asked Riedel what would happen if the United States ended military support to Saudi Arabia. Riedel responded by saying that ending U.S. military support would lead to a Houthi victory but also "end Saudi involvement in the war."
“Because of their siege, humanitarian assistance, food, [and] medicine has not been able to get to the Yemeni people,” Riedel explained, warning that the country remains at risk of mass famine.
“We could end the Saudi support for the blockade,” Riedel insisted. “We could end Saudi bombing raids.”
Riedel dismissed concerns that ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia would push the Saudi government into a relationship with China or Russia, saying that the Saudis remain largely dependent on the United States.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we are, with our British allies, the only real game in town.”