October 10-16: US launches attack on Houthi stations; Saudi says funeral strike was mistake

Monday, October 10Stopping short of accepting responsibility for last week’s bombing of a San’a funeral, the coalition says it “regrets” the strike and promises to release results of an investigation into the incident. It also agreed to British participation in the investigative process. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the bombing was “a heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law.”

UK Foreign Office minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood is due to hold talks with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Jubair, exiled president Hadi, and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen.

Photos surfacing on social media show fragments of US-made explosives used in last week’s Saudi bombing of a funeral in San’a, which killed at least 140 people and injured hundreds more.

Emails and other records obtained by Reuters show that US officials were concerned that last year’s $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia would lead to the US being implicated in war crimes, as anonymous state department officials were skeptical that Saudi airstrikes would be capable of avoiding civilians. This article lays out the theoretical legal precedent for the US being charged with war crimes for its participation in Yemen’s conflict.

The US Navy commented on Sunday’s targeting of one of its vessels in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, saying that it is unsure if the missiles, fired from Houthi-held territory, were aimed intentionally at the USS Mason.

Tuesday, October 11 Following last week’s deadly funeral bombing, international organizations (and the New York Times’ editorial board) have been ramping up pressure on the US to halt its support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. The White House stated that its support for the kingdom “is not a blank check”.

“In light of the attack over the weekend, with the scrutiny that that attack legitimately calls for, we are going to undertake additional reviews of aid and assistance that goes to Saudi Arabia,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said during a press conference.

Kirby, however, defended the coalition’s actions and internal investigations following a question about the difference between bombing civilians in Syria and in Yemen.

Amy Goodman interviewed Nasser Arrabyee to comment on the devastating funeral airstrike.

“The big criminal is Obama himself," Arrabyee says. "This is how Yemenis see to the situation, because every Yemeni believes that Saudi Arabia would not have done that at all, would not have done a war in Yemen, without the approval of Obama.”

The Pentagon hints at retaliation for Sunday’s missile attack on USS Mason launched from Houthi-held territory.

"Anybody who takes action, fires against U.S. Navy ships operating in international waters, does so at their own peril," Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis told a news briefing.

Saba News Agency reported that at least six military and security personnel were killed in last week’s airstrike. They include three commanders of the Republican Guard, loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh: General Ali al-Jaefi and Brigadiers Abdulmalik Marzooq and Ali al-Hamzi. General Ahmed Manea, a member of the Supreme Security Committee, deputy security chief of Sanaa province, Ahmed al-Shalef, and head of the rebels' civil status authority, Brigadier Yehya al-Rowaishan, were also listed as killed in the attack.

Wednesday, October 12 Although some hope that last week’s airstrikes will put pressure on both sides to return to the negotiating table, April Longley Alley argues that mounting violence and the death of a number of prominent personalities will “empower hard-liners over peacemakers while undercutting capacity to implement any future accord.”

Yemen is in the running for an Oscar for the first time ever with the film I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced, which tells the real-life story of Nojoom who was married at the age of nine and struggled to obtain a divorce from her 30-year-old husband. The film was directed by Khadija al-Salami and filmed in Yemen.

The USS Mason was targeted a second time in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. The missiles, fired from Houthi-controlled territory, did not strike the vessel.

Thursday, October 13 In its first direct military action against the Houthis, the US Navy launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Houthi-controlled territory, destroying three coastal radar sites.

The strikes took place after missiles from Houthi-controlled territory unsuccessfully targeted the USS Mason twice in the past week.

Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said, “These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway...The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world.”

“We don’t seek a wider role in this conflict,” adding that the strikes were “not connected to the broader conflict in Yemen.” Cook also said, “Should we see a repeat, we will be prepared to take appropriate action again.”

The US strikes are seen by some Yemenis, and portrayed by Houthi leadership, as evidence that the US is continuing to wage a direct war on Yemen.

“The Americans have been patronizing and directing the war from the very beginning,” said Brig. Gen. Sharaf Luqman, a spokesman for the rebel alliance.

Chairman of the Houthi governing council Saleh al-Samad said in a statement that the strikes by the US vessel were “direct American intervention” and a final move of desperation. Samad added that the US has taken to “fabricating lies and pretexts in order to justify an extensive military operation along the coasts of al-Hudaydah, al-Mokha, and Bab al-Mandeb.”

Abdalmalik al-Houthi, the movement’s leader, also released a statement calling the US action a crime that is intended to pave the way for an operation targeting al-Hudaydah.

Also on Thursday, Iran deployed two vessels to the Red Sea “to protect the country’s trade vessels against piracy,” according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency. Foreign Policy points out that piracy no longer exists in that area.

Speaking to the Washington Post, an anonymous US official said that future military assistance to Saudi Arabia may partly hinge on their willingness to embrace an “urgently needed” ceasefire.

“We are telling the Saudis that supporting their territorial integrity, their sovereignty, that’s one thing. But their campaign inside Yemen is something else, particularly if they’re not prepared to accept the unconditional, immediate cessation of hostilities that we’ve called for,” the official said.

Friday, October 14 President Obama tells Congress that Thursday’s strikes on Houthi targets were a “limited and proportionate” response to threats against US vessels in the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, senior administration officials held a briefing on the strikes, emphasizing that they were in self defense and “not meant to indicate support for coalition operations either in Yemen writ large or on the Red Sea. And we also made clear in public statements that we were not intending to be brought into the war in any fashion.”

One of the officials confirmed that the US is “certain” that the missiles were launched by Houthi forces, but the motives for the targeting of a US vessel is still unclear.

Former US ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche speaks to NPR’s Morning Edition about the extent of America’s involvement in Yemen’s war and outlines what each party in the conflict wants.

“One of the key moments we face now is to not internationalize this conflict any further. It's already been deeply distorted by the 18 months of the protracted bombing by the Saudi coalition. The Iranians don't have a deep stake in Yemen. For them, it's mostly an opportunity to agitate and unnerve the Saudis.”

An explosion struck a Marib funeral for Major General Abdulrab al-Shadady, killing six and wounding 20. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack.

President of Oxfam America, Ray Offenheiser, offers a scathing critique of US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“U.S. support for the coalition will continue even though the very need for a review casts a long shadow on anything that takes place until it is finalized.

“The lack of transparency from the get-go is an insult to the families of the massacred, who are still burying their dead, and for the families of those wounded in the attack desperately trying to seek assistance for their loved ones. At the very least, the U.S. should suspend its support for the campaign until the review is completed.”

The story of Abdullah Rashid, a Sa’dah resident in need of biweekly dialysis treatment and medication, highlights the daily challenges that Yemen’s patients and medical facilities face due to a lack of supplies and staff, and a constant threat of airstrikes.

Saturday, October 15 Two US citizens held by Houthi forces in Yemen were released and transported to Oman after mediation by sultanate authorities. The Department of State did not reveal their identities, but thanked Oman for “assistance in facilitating and supporting” their release.

The Saudi-led coalition partially accepted responsibility for last week’s strike that killed 140 funeral attendees, saying that the targeting was based on “bad information”. An inquiry was conducted by the coalition and concluded that the wrongful airstrike was due to “non-compliance with coalition rules of engagement" and "incorrect information", that was reportedly issued from "a party affiliated to the Yemeni presidency of the general chief of staff”. The investigation, welcomed by the US Department of State, determined that families of the victims should be compensated.

One of those victims, 25-year-old student Sadeq Abdullah Saleh al-Guraizea, was attending the funeral with his father after the closure of San’a airport forced him to remain in Yemen rather than return to his studies in Malaysia.

Read the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan’s take on the coalition’s investigation into the funeral attack here.

The USS Mason was targeted for a third time by cruise missiles from Houthi-controlled territory. The missiles again failed to strike the vessel.

Sunday, October 16 The US and UK called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between warring parties in Yemen. US Secretary of State John Kerry said if both sides accepted the ceasefire then UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed would work through the details and the parties would move towards negotiations.

Houthi spokesperson Mohamed Abdelsalam responded to this proposal, saying that a necessary condition to any agreement is coalition forces ceasing all attacks and lifting the siege. Abdelsalam posted on his Twitter account that “A complete ceasefire by land, air, and sea, along with lifting the siege and opening up the no-fly zone is something that all Yemenis demand.”