By Cameron Peters
Why it’s in the news right now
Last week, the Senate attempted to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a bipartisan bill intended to cut off U.S. support for the war in Yemen. Similar legislation, spearheaded by senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, among others, has been around for a while but failed to receive a vote in the House in 2018. It finally passed earlier this year, only to be met with the second veto of Trump’s presidency. And that veto override vote earlier this week? It failed, 53-45. So the United States — and your tax dollars — will continue to support a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
But while the professed reason for the war is to help the Yemeni government suppress a rebellion that has its roots in the 2011 Arab Spring, the reality is something very different. After more than four years of war, Yemen — already one of the poorest countries in the region — has been transformed into the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
The Saudi war effort in the country includes a blockade, now in its fourth year, that has stopped food and medical supplies from entering the country. As a result, according to the United Nations, 14 million people are facing “pre-famine conditions” and 22 million are in need of humanitarian aid — aid which, due to the blockade, isn’t coming. A cholera outbreak has also affected more than a million people.
For obvious reasons, that’s a problem — one that the U.N. has been sounding the alarm about for years now. “We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” said Mark Lowcock, chief of U.N. humanitarian aid. “Now,” in Lowcock’s statement, was late October 2018.
Today, the situation, if possible, looks even more grim. A U.N.-commissioned study, released last month, found that, by the end of 2019, around 233,000 people will have died in Yemen. Of those, 140,000 are projected to be children under the age of five.
The human cost of the war in Yemen doesn’t stop at those who have died and will die of starvation or of cholera, though. Part of the support the U.S. is providing is in weapons — bombs for coalition air raids — and in fuel for Saudi planes. The refueling policy ended late last year, but the flow of weapons continues, and so do the civilian casualties.
Saudi-led airstrikes have hit weddings, funerals and a school bus among other civilian targets. The attack on the funeral left more than 100 dead, and the strike on the school bus killed at least 29 students. In November 2018, 80 civilians were killed by such strikes, and, as often as not, the bombs are U.S.-made.
“Every single one of those bombs is stamped with ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ and Yemenis know this,” Senator Chris Murphy said at a press conference earlier this year. “They don’t see this as a Saudi bombing campaign. They see this as an American bombing campaign.”
Some weapons have also ended up in the hands of terrorist groups in the region. According to a CNN investigation, “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States.”
Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition forces have also been accused of other war crimes in Yemen, including rape, torture and the use of child soldiers.
You can read the full analysis at North by Northwestern here.