WASHINGTON, DC – In his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, January 11, Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson proposed increasing the United States’ involvement in the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, a position that would mark a troubling reversal of the Obama administration’s recent trend of reducing targeting assistance and other support to the coalition. The Yemen Peace Project (YPP) urges Mr. Tillerson—if confirmed by the Senate—to instead steer the Trump administration toward ending all technical and logistical support for the coalition, and to block further arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. During the hearing, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) directly questioned Mr. Tillerson about how the US should respond to the Saudi-led coalition’s targeting of civilians and use of cluster munitions in Yemen, while Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) noted in his questions for the record that previous US targeting advice emphasizing the protection of civilians has gone unheeded by the coalition. In response, Mr. Tillerson advocated “providing them better targeting intelligence, better targeting capability to avoid mistakenly identifying targets where civilians are hit.”
“The United States has tried and failed to reduce civilian casualties through targeting assistance,” said Will Picard, executive director of The Yemen Peace Project. “Since the beginning of the Saudi-led intervention, there have been American personnel in the coalition command center, helping to direct airstrikes by American-made planes that use American fuel and drop American ordnance on Yemeni civilians. More US involvement in this war is not the answer. The Obama administration has finally learned this lesson; the incoming Secretary of State must urge the next president to end all support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign, not increase it. Furthermore, the Secretary of State is bound by US and international law to block future transfers of arms and ordnance to Saudi Arabia until the coalition’s war crimes in Yemen have been addressed,” Picard added.
Since March 2015, the coalition bombing campaign has contributed to the deaths of more than 4,000 Yemeni civilians, and the wounding of over 7,000 more. In December 2016, the Obama administration halted the sale of roughly 16,000 guided munitions kits to the Saudi government, recognizing that coalition decision-making, not technological failure, is to blame for these civilian casualties.
Despite that cancellation, the U.S. remains intimately involved in the coalition’s bombing campaign, providing intelligence and refueling to coalition planes as they carry out airstrikes. Whether Mr. Tillerson or another individual is confirmed as Secretary of State, the YPP strongly encourages the Trump administration to accelerate, and not reverse, America’s disengagement from the Saudi-led intervention. Ceasing refueling assistance and blocking future transfers of arms are essential steps toward bringing the war to an end and reaching a political settlement to the war in Yemen.