Apparently the Pentagon “talks tough” to its allies concerning war crimes and human rights issues only after a mass civilian casualty event makes world headlines.
Such is the case after a Saudi coalition airstrike took out a school bus in northern Yemen earlier this month, killing 40 children and wounding many more, which momentarily drew the attention of Congressional leaders and celebrities alike to what’s long been dubbed “the forgotten war”.
CNN reports late in the day Monday that the Pentagon has delivered an official warning to Saudi Arabia, saying the US is poised to withdraw intelligence, military, and logistical support for the coalition war against Houthi rebels in Yemen:
The Pentagon has issued a warning to Saudi Arabia that it is prepared to reduce military and intelligence support for its campaign against rebels in neighboring Yemen if the Saudis don’t demonstrate they are attempting to limit civilian deaths in airstrikes following a strike on a school bus that killed 40 children earlier this month, CNN has learned.
And just how outraged are Pentagon officials over the confirmed deaths of 40 children and prior bombings of hospitals and funeral gatherings?
Apparently US officials are merely “concerned” and say that “frustration is rising”.
Two officials directly familiar with the Pentagon’s thinking tell CNN frustration is rising. Defense Secretary James Mattis and General Joseph Votel, head of US military operations in the Middle East, are particularly concerned that the US is supporting a Saudi-led campaign of airstrikes that have killed large numbers of civilians.
This mere “concern” comes after it’s long been known that the Pentagon provides direct targeting and intelligence support to Saudi coalition operations in Yemen since 2015.
Perhaps the central irony to CNN’s reporting is that it acknowledges the Pentagon’s direct role in the war as a lead part of the coalition while simultaneously pretending the US magically becomes a mere passive observer the moment American-made jets use American-supplied laser guided bombs to obliterate a school bus full of kids.
The below is CNN’s actual commentary (and not The Onion):
But after a series of recent strikes in which large numbers of civilians were killed, the Pentagon, as well as the State Department, have now delivered direct messages to the Saudis about limiting civilian casualties. “At what point is enough enough?” one official remarked to CNN.
The Saudis must be shaking their boots over such determined and hard-nosed “warnings” from the very officials sharing the trenches with Saudi and UAE commanders executing the war.
Secretary of Defense Mattis reportedly sent a top general meet with the Saudis after the August 9 attack on the school bus. Lt Cmdr Rebecca Rebarich, a DOD spokeswoman told CNN of that visit: “Recent events dictated to US military leaders that the situation required special mention and official emphasis during his visit.”
And Rebarich added, “Lt. Gen. Garrett delivered a message of concern regarding the recent civilian casualty incident, and on behalf of the US government continued to urge for a thorough and expedited investigation as well as continued emphasis on the reduction of civilian casualties in the Yemeni campaign.”
And CNN comments further: “That message of concern raised the possibility that assistance could be cut.”
Meanwhile during a Tuesday Pentagon briefing, Mattis told reporters that the US still supports Saudi Arabia in Yemen but is working with the coalition to probe civilian casualties. When challenged by a reporter, Mattis said “We didn’t start the war” and underscored that the US support to Saudi and UAE air war is conditioned on Riyadh doing “everything humanly possible to support the innocent loss of life.”
The Pentagon has long tried to present its role in the conflict as attempting to stave off humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, yet as even NPR confirmed while reporting from inside the country earlier this year, the US military “has provided targeting information, equipment and aircraft refueling to the Saudi air campaign, which has been widely criticized for being indiscriminate and killing civilians in places like hospitals, funerals and homes.”
But as Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA officer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, once told a conference audience, “If the United States and the United Kingdom, tonight, told King Salman [of Saudi Arabia] ‘this war has to end,’ it would end tomorrow. The Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.”
Thus the idea that the Pentagon and US officials are now “getting tough” with Saudis is just propaganda fare meant to deflect blame for continuing civilian atrocities in Yemen.
Sadly, there will likely be many more US-Saudi coalition bombings of civilians to come.
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