Dem presses administration on US role in Yemen conflict

Dem presses administration on US role in Yemen conflict
© Cameron Lancaster

A Democratic congressman who has been critical of U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led campaign in Yemen is demanding details on the U.S. role in the conflict, saying the United States could be violating the law of war.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE in a letter to explain a senior administration official’s recent comment that U.S. support for the coalition does not include target selection and review.

“I find it deeply troubling that the U.S. apparently has no advanced knowledge of what targets will be struck by jets that are refueled by U.S. personnel with U.S. tankers,” wrote Lieu, an Air Force veteran who taught the law of armed conflict (LOAC) while serving.

“The U.S. would appear to be violating LOAC and international standards by engaging in such direct military operations if U.S. personnel are not aware if targets are civilians or military, if the loss of life and property are disproportional, or if the operation is even militarily necessary.”

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015. The United States supports the effort with limited intelligence and logistics such as air refueling and sells the Saudis billions of dollars of arms.

But U.S. officials have been reviewing that support, which they have described as “already significantly reduced,” since an October airstrike that hit a funeral and killed more than 140 people.

A preliminary investigation by the Saudis attributed the strike to “incorrect information.”

In his letter, Lieu asks Carter and Kerry to answer a ream of questions about U.S. support for the coalition, including what steps have been taken to ensure the coalition is following the law of armed conflict.

Lieu also wants to know whether U.S. forces refueled the coalition jets that struck the funeral, as well as a school and a hospital in August, and if the United States knew those were the intended target.

Further, Lieu asked whether U.S. forces know what targets coalition jets will be hitting, whether the United States ever engaged in target selection or review and whether the administration believes the law of armed conflict allows them to provide support without knowing targets. He also wants to know whether coalition jets are intentionally hitting targets to increase famine, whether the coalition designated an entire city a legitimate target and whether the United States disputes reports from leading human rights groups on unlawful airstrikes by the coalition. 

“By now, the U.S. has knowledge that in the past 18 months, coalition jets have struck civilian targets multiple times,” he wrote. “U.S. personnel are now at legal risk of being investigated and potentially prosecuted for committing war crimes. Under international law, a person can be found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes. Under U.S. law, a person can be found guilty for conspiring to commit war crimes.”