U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, September 12 he has “certified” that coalition partners Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are acting to reduce risks to civilians in their military operations in Yemen.
But aid groups and members of Congress have slammed Pompeo’s certification as a “farce” and “without any allegiance to facts, moral code or humanitarian law,” and a report accompanying the certification says that the U.S. recognizes that civilian casualties rates are “far too high” and must be reduced “for both strategic and moral reasons.”
The assessment, which is required by Congress for the U.S. to continue allowing its air tankers to refuel Saudi and UAE warplanes, comes after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.
In a statement, Pompeo said that “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”
The U.S. has drawn sharp criticism for its ongoing support to the coalition, which also includes intelligence sharing and targeting information.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a separate statement endorsing the certification, saying the UAE and Saudis are making “every effort” to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage.
Mattis last month warned that U.S. support for the coalition was “not unconditional,” noting that the coalition must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life, and they support the U.N.-brokered peace process.”Pompeo did not provide additional details, but on September 1, the coalition admitted that “mistakes” had been made in an August air strike that killed 40 children.
Twin strikes south of the rebel-held Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on August 23 killed 26 children and four women, the U.N. has said.
The bombing on a crowded market killed a total of 51 people, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The coalition later announced they were investigating the incident, but U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an “independent and prompt” investigation.
AFP obtained an unclassified report that accompanied Pompeo’s certification in which he acknowledged that the U.S. “recognizes that civilian casualties have occurred at rates that are far too high in the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen.”
In the report, Pompeo said civilian casualties must be reduced “for both strategic and moral reasons.”
The document points to multiple ways the coalition is trying to do this, including by avoiding hitting civilian infrastructure, keeping a “no-strike” list, and by updating rules of engagement.
The Yemen conflict has triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.N. estimates that, since the coalition launched military operations in 2015, as many as 10,000 people have died, most of them civilians.
On August 28, a team of U.N.-mandated investigators said they had grounds to believe that “the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have committed a substantial number of violations of international humanitarian law.”
Certification “without any allegiance to facts, moral code or humanitarian law”
Aid groups slammed Pompeo’s certification, saying it would ensure further civilian bloodshed.
“With Secretary Pompeo’s certification, the State Department demonstrated that it is blindly supporting military operations in Yemen without any allegiance to facts, moral code or humanitarian law,” Oxfam America Humanitarian Policy Lead Scott Paul said said in a statement.
“The Trump administration is openly defying and lying to Congress. Members of Congress must act to end the United States’ complicity in this war,” Paul added.
Brookings Institution fellow Scott Anderson said Congress must push for more information on the basis of the certification, and challenge Pompeo if this is deemed inadequate.
Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna called the certification a “farce.”
Pompeo’s ‘certification’ is a farce. The Saudis deliberately bombed a bus full of children. There is only one moral answer, and that is to end our support for their intervention in Yemen.
If this executive will not do it, then Congress must pass a War Powers Resolution. https://t.co/VlYVMChrjA
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) September 12, 2018
“The Saudis deliberately bombed a bus full of children. There is only one moral answer, and that is to end our support for their intervention in Yemen,” Khanna tweeted.
The coalition supports the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which is fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran who seized control of the capital Sana’a in 2014.
Pompeo said Washington would work closely with the coalition to ensure Saudi and UAE support for U.N. peace efforts and to allow unimpeded access for commercial and humanitarian relief supplies to reach Yemenis.
“The Trump administration has been clear that ending the conflict in Yemen is a national security priority,” Pompeo said.
Long-awaited, U.N.-brokered peace talks between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis failed to take place as planned last week in Geneva.
The Houthis said the U.N. had failed meet three conditions for talks, including to guaranteeing the safe return of their delegation from Geneva to Sanaa and to secure the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on September 12 to include information on Pompeo’s unclassified report.