Monday, a Saudi-led and US backed coalition air strike hit a livestock market in a suburb of Aden in southern Yemen, killing at least 45 people. This is all part of the Yemeni Civil War. There are three parties fighting: the Revolutionary Committee (led by the Houthis) and the Hadi government — both of which claim to be the Yemeni government — and Ansar al-Sharia. The United States supports the Hadi government, which I suppose is as good a choice as any. Being against Ansar al-Sharia, is a no-brainer, because they are allied with the Islamic State. But Aden is controlled by the Revolutionary Committee. And why exactly we attacked a livestock market is unclear.
I’m sure Saudi and US officials will say it is a mistake and war is messy and collateral damage blah, blah, blah. But The Guardian reported that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say that “the Saudi-led coalition was failing to adhere to international law and was not taking the necessary precautions to prevent civilian casualties.” Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International released a statement that said, “The cases we have analysed point to a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries.” Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW said, “These attacks appear to be serious laws-of-war violations that need to be properly investigated.”
In addition to being killed outright, there are currently 20 million Yemenis without access to clear drinking water. That maybe doesn’t sound too bad, but Yemen only has a population of 26 million. So we are talking about the vast majority of the people in the country. What’s more, over a million have had to flee their homes. According to Reuters, “The United Nations last week designated the war in Yemen as a Level 3 humanitarian crisis, its most severe category, and the United States and the European Union have endorsed calls for a humanitarian suspension of hostilities.” We would hope.
But the American involvement in this is typical shortsighted and juvenile policy. Basically, this is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So, without any thought to what is best, we just go with Saudi Arabia because they are our “ally” and they are fighting against our “enemy” Iran. Meanwhile, the instability in the region allows the Islamic State to get a very good foothold in Yemen. There is a very good case to be made for supporting the stable governments of the Middle East — especially after our spectacular move to destabilize the region with the Iraq War. But we don’t. America still can’t get over 4 November 1979.
In the mean time, civilians die. I was really struck by an eye-witness of Monday’s bombing who said there was “blood from people mixed with that of the sheep and other livestock at the market.” So the United States is calling for a humanitarian suspension of hostilities. But for three and a half months, we’ve been providing support for the bombing of civilians. According to The Wall Street Journal back in April, US Widens Role in Saudi-led Campaign Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen. Part of that widened roles was “vetting military targets.” Well, we did a great job on Monday.
We could have used the last few months to push for a peaceful settlement to this. But that isn’t the way we operate. It’s all about our supposed strategic interests. Humanity be damned.