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National Security

Saudi Arabia's Troubling Actions in Yemen

What began as a response to Iranian-backed terrorists has become more of a humanitarian crisis.

Todd Johnson · Jan. 3, 2018

Why is the United States government continuing to support the Saudi monarchy with military resources when it is becoming clearer every day that the House of Saud is indiscriminately killing civilians in Yemen? It’s a question more and more Americans are beginning to ask as evidence continues to mount that the Saudi government is creating a humanitarian crisis in the Arabian peninsula.

While many U.S. citizens are aware of American military operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, most are unaware of the large conflict involving U.S. personnel in Yemen. The small Arab country, located on the Arabia peninsula, has been in the midst of a political upheaval since 2011 and in 2015 a civil war broke out between the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (supported by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) and Iranian-backed Houthi rebel groups.

The Saudi response began as an effort to counter Iran, which Barack Obama had just certified with his foolish and dangerous nuclear deal. Iran was backing Houthi jihadists in Yemen in a bid to destabilize the region. But Saudi actions are no longer helpful. The Saudi government has bombed Yemeni civilians and critical infrastructure, stopped humanitarian shipments of food and supplies, and contributed to the worst outbreak of cholera in contemporary history.

Meanwhile, however, the lack of a cohesive governing body in Yemen has made it a breeding ground for terrorist organizations and the United States has been conducting airstrikes in the area for many years. Just in 2017 there were over 120 American airstrikes against al-Qaida Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS-Yemen (ISIS-Y) fighters.

Last year also saw Donald Trump’s administration increasing both the conventional and special operations forces on the ground. While the deployment of American ground troops has led to some tactical successes, it hasn’t stemmed the tide of growth in terror organizations in Yemen.

According to recent reports, ISIS-Y has doubled in strength over the last year. According to one counterterrorism expert, the United States isn’t “ahead of the problem in Yemen.”

Which leads to the current situation on the ground. The destabilizing effects of a humanitarian crisis in Yemen will only lead to more chaos in the region. The deaths of thousands of innocent people would, in one former U.S. diplomat’s words, serve as a “catalytic effect” for terrorist recruitment. More importantly, it would be a significant blow to the United States’ ability to conduct foreign diplomacy around the globe.

Now is the time for the Trump administration and Congress to fundamentally examine U.S. policy for Yemen. Rather than continuing to provide military assistance to the Saudi forces, the American government should implement a tactical pause and examine what can be done to mitigate the suffering of the Yemeni people. It’s not enough for the White House to issue statements calling for an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Now is the time for action.

If Capitol Hill and President Trump fail to show leadership on this important issue, it will only reinforce the narrative in the Arab world that the United States is more interested in facilitating killing rather than peacemaking. The long-term interests of the nation will be best served by forcing the Saudi government to change their brutal tactics. Anything less will only extend the misery of the fractured Yemeni society.

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