“The U.S. government claims that it’s not engaged in hostilities unless U.S. troops are on the ground being shot at by the enemy,” Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican and co-sponsor of the resolution, said on the Senate floor last week. “It stretches the imagination, and it stretches the English language beyond its breaking point, to suggest the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the resolution would allow American-backed counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda in other parts of Yemen to continue, but would “ensure that the United States is not giving the Saudis a blank check to bomb Yemen and worsen the humanitarian crisis.”
In a sometimes testy Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, some senators accused the Pentagon of being complicit in the errant bombing campaign.
“We are enabling the Saudis to continue their battle there,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii.
“We’re not parties to this conflict,” replied Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East.
“We’re helping them,,” Ms. Hirono shot back. “We’re enabling the Saudis.”
American advisers do not give direct or indirect approval on target selection or execution of bombings, Pentagon officials say. Rather, they give advice on targeting procedures and facilitate checks of a list of “no-strike” buildings, like mosques and marketplaces. More recently, they have helped the Saudis to improve the effectiveness of their Patriot antimissile systems, officials said.
“We can help them. We can advise them. We can share our lessons learned on how to more effectively apply their capabilities,” General Votel said.
But the general acknowledged that the military does not track where an American-refueled Saudi jet is going, what targets it strikes or the results of the mission.
Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the Arab world, has been convulsed by civil strife since the Houthis, Shiite rebels from the north aligned with Iran, stormed the capital, Sana, in 2014 and then ousted the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Americans’ main counterterrorism partner.
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations began a military campaign aimed at pushing back the Houthis and restoring the government. That campaign has so far failed to do so, and has instead caused the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis, with the worst outbreak of cholera in contemporary history and widespread child malnutrition.
Last year, Saudi Arabia said it was engaging in a $750 million, multiyear training program through the American military, and taking several other measures, to help prevent the accidental killing of civilians in the air campaign against Houthi rebels. It was a tacit acknowledgment of the weaknesses of the Saudi armed forces.
Human rights groups say Saudi Arabia has failed to meet its promises. “Saudi Arabia had made pledges to make its engagement in Yemen less deadly and destructive,” said Scott Paul, a policy specialist on Yemen at Oxfam America. “We do see the stark evidence that the situation has continued to deteriorate — innocent civilians continue to be caught up and killed in this crisis.”
A report to the United Nations Security Council in January described coalition “precautionary measures” as “largely inadequate and ineffective,” and said that “the use of precision-guided weapons is a strong indicator that the intended targets were those affected by the airstrikes.”
With Saudi Arabia flying as many as 200 missions a day in Yemen, the kingdom is seeking to buy more of those precision-guided weapons. Thomas A. Kennedy, the chief executive of Raytheon, met with State Department officials this month to promote the proposed sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
“We value our 50-year partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and look forward to continuing to help meet their security needs,” said Michael F. Doble, a spokesman for Raytheon.
The purchase, said William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, would be “substantial by standards of U.S.-Saudi trade in munitions, certainly one of the largest if not the largest for systems of the kind it likely includes.”
In 2017, the United States sold roughly $610 million in weapons and munitions to Saudi Arabia and $48 million in firearms to the Emirates. Bigger equipment, however, such as missile defense systems, made up a large portion of the purchases for both countries over the past year.
During his trip to Saudi Arabia last year, his first overseas visit as president, Mr. Trump offered the kingdom a $110 billion arms package. A portion of his pledge — roughly $23.7 billion — had already been authorized under the Obama administration.
Human rights groups have long tied American-made weapons to the conflict in Yemen. A May 2017 report from Human Rights Watch said Raytheon-made munitions had been used in at least four Saudi-led coalition strikes on innocents.
In one such attack, 31 civilians were killed and another 42 were wounded, according to the report. Human Rights Watch recovered a portion of one of the bombs used in the strike that had Raytheon production markings and a manufacture date of October 2015.
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