9 August 2018   1 comment

There was a horrific aerial attack near the Yemeni province of Saada which killed 29 children returning from a summer camp.  The raid was conducted by Saudi Arabian-led coalition in retaliation for a Houthi missile attack.  The civil war is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-based Arab states and Iran and its Shia allies, the Houthi.  The United States actively supports the Saudi-led coalition, providing ammunition, refueling for the jets, and target intelligence.  The action was unquestionably a war crime, but the US has no idea whether it was involved in the strike in any way.  Alex Ward, writing in Vox, quotes US military personnel:

“‘We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the US sold to them,’ Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a spokesperson for US Central Command, told me. ‘We don’t have a lot of people on the ground.’

“It’s also unclear if the US was involved in refueling planes for the attack, Jacques said, because the military doesn’t track where the coalition planes go. Another Pentagon spokesperson said that ‘US Central Command was not involved in the airstrike in Sa’ada.’

“The US military is also not in the room when the Saudi-led coalition decides to conduct a strike, per Maj. Jacques. ‘At the end of the day, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for their strikes,’ he continued. A top spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition defended the strike on Thursday by calling it a ‘legitimate military action.’”

Zaid Jilani, writing for The Intercept, quotes an exchange between Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and US CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel:

IN A SURPRISING admission on Tuesday, the head of U.S. Central Command — which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia — admitted that the Pentagon doesn’t know a whole lot about the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen that the United States is supporting through intelligence, munitions, and refueling.

“U.S. CENTCOM Cmdr. Gen. Joseph Votel made the admission in response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“’General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?’ Warren asked.

“’Senator, we do not,’ Votel replied.”

Today’s State Department Press Conference involved exchanges between Heather Nauert and members of the press which is a profoundly embarrassing example of US irresponsibility in the commission of these war crimes.

QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you about this airstrike in Yemen, which appears to have killed dozens of children. The Saudis obviously are the ones who conducted this, but they do that with weapons supplied by the U.S., with training supplied by the U.S., and with targeting information, targeting data, supplied by the U.S. How can something like this happen?

MS NAUERT: How can something like that report happen?


MS NAUERT: Well, I think we would start by saying –

QUESTION: It’s more than a report. I mean, it’s – they admitted that it happened.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. How can situations like this happen? We don’t have the full details about what happened on the ground. We’ve certainly seen the news reports of what has been reported happened, okay? I can’t confirm all the details because we are not there on the ground.

We can say that we’re certainly concerned about these reports that resulted – that there was an attack that resulted in the deaths of civilians. We call on the Saudi-led coalition to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident. We take all credible accounts of civilian casualties very seriously. We call on the parties to take appropriate measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law and urge all parties to investigate all reported incidents of civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, they say – already the coalition says that they acted in accordance with international law. But if you look at the photographs, the video that come from the scene, it doesn’t look like that’s a really – that that’s a credible answer. So are you okay with the coalition on its own doing an investigation, or would you like to see some kind of an international component to it or an international investigation?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think I just answered that and we said that we would call upon the Saudi Government –

QUESTION: So you’re –

MS NAUERT: — to do a full and thorough investigation, as we always do. And we call upon all parties in any kind of situation like this to take appropriate measures to try to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties.

QUESTION: So you don’t think –

MS NAUERT: DOD and other entities put out reports on this after the fact as they all start to investigate, and so we will look forward to any information on that.

QUESTION: Right. But my question is you don’t see a need for there to be something other than a coalition investigation, you don’t see a need for an independent –

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to get – this is something that is fresh, that just happened, so I’m not going to get ahead of any kind of investigation that may take place. Okay?

QUESTION: It’s only the latest in a huge number of civilians killed during these operations though.

MS NAUERT: I would encourage you to take a look – and that is we regret any loss of civilian life. That is something that the United States Government – in particular, any time you talk to the Department of Defense about civilian casualties, they will say the same thing –


MS NAUERT: — that – I’m not finished, okay? And they will say the exact same thing, that all parties take very strong responsibility and measures to try to protect against the loss of civilian life. As we have seen – and you all very rarely ask about the issue that has been unfolding and the devastation that has taken place in Yemen – let’s look at some of the things that have been happening in Yemen.

You have the Houthi rebels who continue to attack Saudi Arabia. They continue to do that with Iranian weapons, missiles, and rockets. They continue to try to attack civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, for example, and that is part of the reason why these actions are being taken.

Let me go back and remind you what I just said a moment ago, and that is we call for an investigation and we anticipate that a thorough investigation will be done. I don’t have anything more for you on that.

QUESTION: The Secretary isn’t planning on having a conversation with –

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you on that. Okay.

Hi, Nick.

QUESTION: Is this – hey, Heather. Is this latest incident or the previous incidents causing the U.S. to re-evaluate in any way the role that it’s playing in the situation, in terms of its relationship with Saudi Arabia?

MS NAUERT: Look, we provide a tremendous amount of humanitarian assistance in Yemen to try to support civilians in Yemen and try to mitigate against the devastation that’s taken place there in that country. I don’t have anything more for you on that.

QUESTION: But you also supply a tremendous amount of weaponry and the data for targeting to the Saudis.

MS NAUERT: Well, then – sorry.

QUESTION: Right? No?


QUESTION: Am I wrong? Is that wrong?

QUESTION: That’s not wrong.

MS NAUERT: Sorry, these ladies over here are laughing. On that I would refer you to the Department of Defense that is involved with that, but as you know, Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner in the region to the United States.

Okay. Hi, Gardiner.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. Hey. So obviously, there’s growing concerns in Congress about the toll this war is taking within Yemen. It’s the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet. Aren’t you concerned that incidents like this will further erode congressional support and lead to further support for legislation that could cut off Saudi Arabia from arms sales and the rest?

MS NAUERT: I mean, I think that is an entirely hypothetical question and we don’t comment on congressional proposals in any event, but I would ask – all of you have been very silent on the issue of Yemen, and times —


MS NAUERT: Although Said has asked. You’ve been the one reporter who’s asked a lot about Yemen and the situation there.

QUESTION: Well I would suggest that if you had more than two briefings a week and they lasted for longer than a half an hour or 40 minutes that you might get questions about something other than the actual main topic of the day.

MS NAUERT: Matt, I think you and I talk every single day.

QUESTION: Yes, we do.

MS NAUERT: You have my phone number. You have all my numbers, and anytime you want to talk about Yemen, I’d be more than happy to answer your questions and provide you additional expert briefings –


MS NAUERT: — on Yemen anytime anyone is interested, but I have not seen a major level of interest on the part of our press corps, with the exception of Said, on the issue of Yemen.


QUESTION: Why does that matter, though? There’s news today, so –


QUESTION: Can you request an expert on Yemen?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, certainly, I’d be happy to. Yeah.

QUESTION: Wait, so first of all, I think that when there have been attacks against Saudi installations or missiles and stuff, I think you’ve seen that there have been just as vigorous of reporting.

MS NAUERT: I don’t – I disagree, but –

QUESTION: Well, I mean, that’s – it’s not our job to, like, sit here and go back and forth on that. We’re asking today. The U.S. has tried to increase its target training with – to try and improve the targeting of the Saudi coalition. Is that still continuing?

MS NAUERT: Elise, I think that would be a DOD issue, so I’d encourage you to talk with my –

QUESTION: But these are foreign – okay, but these are foreign military financing.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Which is out of the State Department.

MS NAUERT: And I would encourage you to talk to DOD about that. So some –

QUESTION: Well, maybe –

MS NAUERT: Some of this – some of this is a State Department equity, but much of this is Department of Defense, so I’d encourage you to talk with them about it.

It is extraordinary that the US can actively support Saudi Arabia and divest itself so thoroughly of the responsibilities for its actions.



The US has placed additional sanctions on Russia for its role in the poisoning of four individuals, one of whom was a former Russian spy, in Great Britain.  The sanctions are not an example of President Trump’s toughness on Russia–the sanctions are required by the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (PUBLIC LAW 102-182—DEC. 4, 1991 105 STAT. 1245) which requires that:


“(1) DETERMINATION BY THE PRESIDENT.—Except as provided in subsection (b)(2), the President shall impose both of the sanctions described in subsection (c) if the President determines that a foreign person, on or after the date of the enactment of this section, has knowingly and materially contributed—

“(A) through the export from the United States of any goods or technology that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States under this Act, or

“(B) through the export from any other country of any goods or technology that would be, if they were United States goods or technology, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States under this Act, to the efforts by any foreign country, project, or entity described in paragraph (2) to use, develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire chemical or biological weapons.

“(2) COUNTRIES, PROJECTS, OR ENTITIES RECEIVING ASSISTANCE.  Paragraph (1) applies in the case of—

“(A) any foreign country that the President determines has, at any time after January 1, 1980—

“(i) used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law;
“(ii) used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals; or
“(iii) made substantial preparations to engage in the activities described in clause (i) or (ii);

“(B) any foreign country whose government is determined for purposes of section 6(j) of this Act to be a government that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism; or

“(C) any other foreign country, project, or entity designated by the President for purposes of this section.

The US action comes only after significant prodding.  First. on Congressman Ed Royce, who has been quite sympathetic to President Trump.  Royce, who has announced that he will not seek-election this year, finally wrote a letter to President Trump, reminding him of his legal obligations.  The sanctions have finally been imposed, but significantly later than the law required.   The sanctions will seriously affect the Russian economy.  According to the Washington Post:

“Unless Russia agrees within 90 days to stop all use of chemical weapons and permit inspections to confirm their elimination, the law requires selection from a broad range of additional measures, including withdrawal of U.S. support for international loans and U.S. bank loans, prohibition of landing rights for Russian airlines, and suspension of diplomatic relations.

“The export bans will apply to all state-owned or state-funded enterprises in Russia, a category the State Department official said could encompass 70 percent of the Russian economy and 40 percent of the workforce.

“Once fully implemented, the sanctions could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in exports, the official said. Two-way trade between Russia and the United States totaled $38 billion in 2013, the last year for which figures are posted, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Since then, the amount is believed to have decreased, with Russia continuing to hold a surplus. U.S. exports are primarily machinery and technical goods, while leading U.S. imports from Russia are petroleum products.

It is highly unlikely that Russia will allow the UN to inspect their weapons sites, so these draconian measures should come into force.  We shall see if President Trump follows the law.

Posted August 9, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “9 August 2018

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  1. “Sorry, these ladies over here are laughing.”

    I love my country, but I truly hate my government right now. What an unbelievable embarrassment these people are. Staff laughing during a serious press conference call about Yemen. That type of callousness and heartlessness is worse than any misspelled Trump tweet or whatever else we get distracted by.


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