On Saturday, August 20, the U.S. stated that it was going to reduce the number of its ‘advisers’ currently working in tandem with the Saudi Arabia led coalition in Yemen, further stating that the primary reason was the coalition’s inability to control civilian casualties. Fifth Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey said that the United States now has `a limited number, less than five, that are working directly on the advisory cell that we have here` in Bahrain. That number is down from about 45, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, at its peak. While the U.S. has made its pull out from Yemen quite “public”, the reality remains hidden and the actual extent of the support the U.S. continues to provide continues to fail to attract the Western media’s attention at the same time.
While McConnaughey was right in saying that the U.S. team of advisers is engaged primarily in providing “imagery” to the coalition forces that in turn allows their forces to make better decisions, this is however not the actual support the U.S. has been and is still providing to the Saudis. It is through arms sale, worth billions of dollars, that the U.S. is supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The illusion of this “pull out” becomes evident when we look at the fact that it was only a month ago that there was an announcement from the U.S. State Department about an arms sale to Saudi Arabia of over $1 billion.
Arms sale sanctions civilian killings
This arms deal involves primarily tanks and armoured personnel carriers. But it’s in the context of a much larger level of arms sales that have been underway for a long time. There was a $60 billion arms sale at that time, the largest in history, which was signed between the United States and Saudi Arabia back in 2010. And according to Bill Hartung, who monitors these arms sales probably better than anyone else, in the first year of the Obama administration there were agreements that were reached, although they didn’t all go through yet, that totalled $190 billion worth of weapons and training for the Saudi government, the Saudi army. There was another $122 billion arms sale last year that included tanks, but also included cluster bombs, a weapon that is prohibited by a very important international treaty which the United States has still refused to sign.
It is interesting to note that the announcement coincided with the news that Saudi-led coalition warplanes had re-started bombing Yemen for the first time in three months, killing 14 people and shutting the airport after UN-brokered talks were suspended recently. Elizabeth Trudeau, a state department spokeswoman, said she was “very concerned” by Tuesday’s casualty reports, but did not directly comment when asked if the state department worried US weapons being sent to Saudi Arabia could be used against civilians.
While many U.S. officials said that they were “concerned” over civilian casualties and that Saudia’s war was becoming a “nightmare” for the U.S., the fact of the matter is that none of these concerns were voiced when the deal was announced. Contrary to it, the DSCA said in a statement that “this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”
This is quite evident that the U.S.’ cardinal objective has been and continues to be to support Saudi Arabia in its nefarious wars. Not only does it allow the U.S. to earn revenue out of such gigantic deals, but also puts it in a position to keep regional countries engaged in warfare, divide them against each other and maintain a situation that can at its best be described as “controlled instability.” The truth, therefore, is that the U.S. does not really bother if civil casualties happen in Yemen or not or whether the U.S. supplied weapons are used against and U.S. made bombs are dropped on the innocent people in Yemen. On the contrary, the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia directly sanctions civilian killings in Yemen, as also elsewhere the House of Saud is militarily involved.
The U.S. continues to support a war that, according to the U.N’s figures, has left more than 6,400 people dead, mostly civilians. The fighting, in addition to it, has also driven 2.8 million people from their homes and left more than 80% of the population needing humanitarian aid.
Therefore, the whole mantra of “pull out” is only a lie being fed to the people of the U.S. in specific and the whole world in general. The champion of democracy, a self-proclaimed title of the U.S., continues to provide the hereditary monarchs of the House of Saud with “toys” to play their dirty games in Yemen and elsewhere too. Needless to say, last November, the U.S. approved a $1.29bn deal to replenish the Saudi air force’s arsenal, depleted by its bombing campaigns in Yemen.
Not Al-Qaeda but the Yemenis are the targets
Were we to simply follow the U.S.’ official narrative that Saudi Arabia was playing an anchor role in ‘war on terror’ in the Middle East, we would certainly end up believing that the global terror groups have no connection with Wahhabism and its jihadi ideology, which the repeatedly demonstrate in their brutal acts of killings.
Even if we stretch ourselves to limits and say that Saudi Arabia is fighting these “terror groups”, the war in Yemen is certainly not about fighting “terrorism.” This is a war against the Houthis of Yemen who had been side-lined and excluded from the structures of economic and political power for decades and who have been now forced into raising an armed resistance against the atrocities they had been subjected to. The House of Saud is far from fighting A-Qaeda or any other real “terror group”, it is fighting the people of Yemen and has killed thousands of civilians.
The Saudis are at war with the so-called Houthis. They’re not going after Al-Qaeda despite the fact that the group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, was, for a long time considered the most dangerous and most likely to launch an international attack.
There is, therefore, a glaring double game the U.S. is playing in Yemen. Not only does it not have actually “pulled out” of Yemen, but also has not put any pressure on Saudi Arabia to either fight real terror groups or stop bombing innocent civilians. The news of “pull out” of U.S. personnel from Yemen, therefore, carries little to no significance in that it does not, in any way, signify a change in the U.S.’ strategic orientation vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. If it is anything at all, it is only a change of tactics the U.S. has been following, allowing it to switch from direct to indirect, yet lethal and deadly, military support.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.