Why Aren’t We Out of Yemen Yet?
President Joe Biden’s announcement two weeks after taking office that he would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,” was welcome. It was also inexcusably ambiguous, and when lawmakers sought clarity into the scope of the policy change, the administration mostly declined to give it. Biden’s announcement “includes the suspension of two previously notified air-to-ground munitions sales and an ongoing review of other systems,” wrote the State Department in a letter. But beyond that, the administration didn’t indicate what military support would continue to flow to the Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen’s grueling civil war.
An extensive new report from The Washington Post this week confirms that skepticism of the drawdown was warranted and the specification of “offensive operations” was deceptive. While rightfully decrying Russian aggression against civilian targets in Ukraine, the U.S. government continues to be implicated in the same kind of brutality against civilians in Yemen, the site of the world’s most acute humanitarian crisis. This Post report is fresh evidence that we need to know exactly how the U.S. government is backing the Saudi-led coalition and its war crimes in Yemen—and that this backing needs to stop.
The Post story is not the first to suggest that U.S. involvement in Yemen continues to be significant. We already knew, for instance, that other weapons deals had proceeded during Biden’s tenure. The president and Congress signed off on a $650 million sale of missiles and other arms to Saudi Arabia in late 2021, and the State Department approved millions more in February—using language of rationale copied and pasted from a Trump administration sale completed before Biden’s ostensible policy change, Responsible Statecraft reports.
We also knew the administration had yet to cancel military maintenance contracts which, per the Post article and previous reporting by Vox, are crucial for continuing airstrikes in Yemen. “If we don’t sell [Saudi Arabia a] particular ammunition, they can still fly. They have got a lot of munitions stockpiled. They might be able to find replacements,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D–N.J.) told the Post. “But there’s no replacement for the maintenance contract and no ability to fly without it.” These “contracts fulfilled by both the U.S. military and U.S. companies to coalition squadrons carrying out offensive missions have continued” since the “offensive operations” announcement, the Post found, even though the air campaign is responsible for most direct civilian deaths and Biden couched his comments in concern for civilians.
And we knew that the Biden administration had not pushed for an immediate end to the Saudi blockade of Yemen, officially intended to intercept Iranian weapons but in practice a major contributing factor to the country’s famine conditi
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