Saudis Continue to Lead US by the Nose into Ill-Considered Approach in Yemen

Last Thursday, LAT had an article voicing the concerns of national security types who think our support for the Saudi assault on Yemen is ill-considered. In part that’s because the Saudi assault is helping AQAP.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, widely regarded as the terrorist network’s most lethal franchise, has capitalized on the chaos by sharply expanding its reach. Fighters loyal to the group claimed control Thursday of a military base and other key facilities near Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port in southern Yemen.

In part, that’s because the Saudis — as has been true for years — aren’t very good at avoiding civilian casualties.

Pentagon officials, who pride themselves on the care they take to avoid civilian casualties, have watched with growing alarm as Saudi airstrikes have hit what the U.N. this week called “dozens of public buildings,” including hospitals, schools, residential areas and mosques. The U.N. said at least 364 civilians have been killed in the campaign.


The U.S. role was quietly stepped up last week after the civilian death toll rose sharply. The number of U.S. personnel was increased from 12 to 20 in the operations center to help vet targets and to perform more precise calculations of bomb blast areas to help avoid civilian casualties.

The obvious problems with the assault led one anonymous source to label it a disaster, and another source to explain we’re helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen to placate them about the Iran deal.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing briefings on the air war, called it a “disaster,” saying the Saudis don’t have a “realistic endgame” for the bombing.


“We’re doing this not because we think it would be good for Yemen policy; we’re doing it because we think it’s good for U.S.-Saudi relations,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official who is now with the Center for a New American Security.

Amid this growing concern about the Saudi clusterfuck of their own back yard, Obama chatted with King Salman last Friday.

Today, the President spoke with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to discuss recent developments in Yemen.  The President reaffirmed the strong friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and underscored our commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security.  The President and King Salman discussed the recent adoption of a resolution on Yemen in the United Nations Security Council and next steps in the effort to resume the political transition in Yemen, including talks facilitated by the United Nations.  The President and King Salman agreed that our collective goal is to achieve lasting stability in Yemen through a negotiated political solution facilitated by the United Nations and involving all parties as envisioned in the GCC Initiative.  The President and King Salman also discussed the importance of responding to the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people.

John Brennan snuck off to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (which follows a Saudi visit to discuss an Arab military force; there are reports el-Sisi is getting cold feet).

In short, that concern reflected in the LAT piece seemed to translate into an increased effort to get the Saudis to stop bombing so wildly.

Then the Saudis bombed an Oxfam warehouse.

Oxfam has vehemently condemned yesterday’s Coalition airstrike on one of its storage facilities in Saada Governorate in northern Yemen.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen said: “This is an absolute outrage particularly when one considers that we have shared detailed information with the Coalition on the locations of our offices and storage facilities. The contents of the warehouse had no military value. It only contained humanitarian supplies associated with our previous work in Saada, bringing clean water to thousands of households. Thankfully, no one was killed in this particular airstrike although conservative estimates put the death toll in the country as a whole, since the conflict began, at around 760 – the majority of which are civilians.”

To be sure, the Saudis have bombed plenty of civilian targets (including milk factories!) as have the Houthis. But coming as it did in the wake of this escalation of US concerns about civilians, it struck me as particularly telling.

Yet, in spite of what appears to be out complete inability to rein in the Saudis, we’re still deploying more ships to the region, on top of what we’ve already got in place, on the premise of stopping Iranian arms trafficking (which Josh Earnest said last week we have no evidence of, and where do we get off complaining about arms trafficking?!?!).

And all those ships are doing nothing to ameliorate the growing humanitarian disaster.

Why are we doing this?

Update: Forgot to link this AJAM piece reporting concern on the part of the Generals about this.

And a number of CENTCOM and SOCOM officers believe the Saudis are in over their heads in trying to reverse Houthi gains in Yemen through military intervention.

“We had a great opportunity to engage with the Houthis on this, but we gave in to the Saudis,” Horton said, “and frankly, they cannot begin to manage this. They have all the toys but few people who know how to effectively use them. Their NCO and officer corps are largely untested, and their enlisted men are drawn from the lowest rungs of Saudi society. If they get bogged down in Yemen, I wonder about the loyalty of many of the soldiers and NCOs. The Egyptians will not fare much better.”

Update: See also Paul Pillar.

6 replies
  1. Malkovich says:

    “and their enlisted men are drawn from the lowest rungs of Saudi society.” Unlike in the US where our enlisted men are all sons of the elite.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    “Pentagon officials, who pride themselves on the care they take to avoid civilian casualties” — they have to pride themselves, their victims wouldn’t. Oh, and while they’re at it, slam the Saudis for doing what they themselves have done, in spades. Let’s forget about the cities that were leveled in Germany and Korea, the carpet-bombing in Cambodia and Laos, the destruction of towns and cities in Afghanistan and Iraq (e.g. Fallujah). Oh the hypocrisy.
    So this “concern” is all propaganda, not to be taken seriously, especially the part about the US not directing it. That’s what a world leader does, leads. Accept no substitutes.

  3. Stephen says:

    This is starting to sound like the equivalent of the US allowing Israel to bomb Gaza to rubble to keep Netanyahu quiet on Iran.

  4. wallace says:

    quote”“Pentagon officials, who pride themselves on the care they take to avoid civilian casualties”?”unquote

    Sheezus, the liars at the OODG(Office of Obfuscation, Doublespeak and Gimmicks) must have worked 80 hrs of overtime on that bullshit line. Kobane is living proof.

    quote”By all accounts, the over 700 airstrikes the U.S. conducted on a round-the-clock basis on Kobane devastated the town. The civilian death toll has never been calculated. “unquote

    If lying were weather, these mofu’s would be a 5.1 hurricane.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, Kobane is a great recent example.
      The US media, using their Pentagon flash cards, and quoting Kerry, obediently reported that Kobane was returned to Empire control, but they failed to report that Kobane essentially doesn’t exist any longer. They had to destroy Kobane to save it.
      The Air Force calls it “going Winchester” when they indiscriminately drop their entire bomb load on a target, and that’s what they did over Kobane using bombers out of Qatar (the spiritual home of al Qaeda, but that’s another story).
      google Kobane images and see the results.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    And as for Paul Pillar and his “Manichean streak” this is how I responded to it on LobeLog.
    1. The US sees itself as the dominate world power and therefore must be involved in everything everywhere. Total world dominance requires total world participation.
    2.There is no Manichean consideration of good and evil in this, only what course of action benefits US world power. It comes with the assumed title. The world’s business is America’s business. To do nothing about something somewhere would be considered a sign of weakness, like “leading from behind.” Can’t have that. And the best course of action is the one most favoring America. Anything less is silly.
    3. Yemen is an example. The Saudi despots are best allies so help them bomb Yemen back to the stone age and starve the people (food line are being bombed). Not a problem.
    4. Obama moved on Iran not because he suddenly cares about Iran, he doesn’t. He hates Iran. (Or he’s been ordered to hate Iran.) But he badly needs something as a legacy. I/P didn’t work, but an Iran nuclear deal might. There are still Iran’s other “bad features” to frighten people — the scary mullahs, ballistic missiles, terrorism, etc.
    5. Without something positive, the coming Obama Library would feature nothing but negatives, considering all the wars he’s started and promoted. An opening to Iran, albeit belated, would be a feature.

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