Three years ago, the great democracies of the west used a specially produced media campaign in which they paraded a doctored YouTube clip showing a chemical attack allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime against his own people, to unleash the first military intervention in Syria, with the intention of removing the country’s president; a military campaign that has not only gone nowhere, but has led to the deterioration of a bloody and relentless civil war whose refugees may soon cost Angela Merkel her political legacy, led to the advent of the Islamic State one year later, and the intervention of not only Russia one year ago but – most recently – China, also on the side of the Saudi regime.
Much less has been said about a the deadly military campaign waged by US ally, and generous Clinton Foundation donor, Saudi Arabia, which on March 26, 2015 began carrying out airstrikes in Yemen and imposing an aerial and naval blockade on the country, allegedly in response to requests for assistance from the contested government of president Manusur Hadi, who asked for help to quell an uprising by Houthi forces loyal to former president Ali Saleh, who had been deposed in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
The reason why this particular campaign, which continues to this day with thousands of innocent civilian casualties, has been largely swept under the rug is because of the direct and indirect involvement of US support which according to a new report, may include the highly controversial compound, white phosphorus.
According to WaPo, Saudi Arabia appears to be using U.S.-supplied white phosphorous munitions in its war in Yemen, based on images and videos posted to social media, raising concerns among human rights groups that the highly incendiary material could be used against civilians, something which is banned by the Geneva convention. Under U.S. regulations, white phosphorous sold to other countries is to be used only for signaling to other troops and creating smoke screens. When the munition explodes, it releases white phosphorous that automatically ignites in the air and creates a thick white smoke. When used against soldiers or civilians, it can maim and kill by burning to the bone.
The WaPo reports that while it is unclear exactly how the Saudis are using the munitions, the government has already received widespread condemnation for its indiscriminate bombing in civilian areas since its campaign against rebel forces in Yemen began in 2015. U.S. officials confirmed that the American government has supplied the Saudis white phosphorous in the past but declined to say how much had been transferred or when. After reviewing a social media image taken from the battlefield that showed a white phosphorous mortar shell, a U.S. official told the Washington Post it appeared to be American in origin but could not trace it to a particular sale because some of the markings were obscured.
“The United States expects any recipient of U.S. military assistance to use those items in accordance with international law and under the terms and conditions of any U.S. transfer or sale,” said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss politically sensitive issues. Only in this case, Saudi Arabia appears to have an exemption.
The official said the department was looking into reports of Saudi forces’ improperly using U.S.-supplied white phosphorous munitions. “If a country is determined to have used U.S.-provided weapons for unauthorized purposes, the U.S. will take appropriate corrective action,” the official said.
While the United States has grown wary of its material support to the Saudi military, it continues to provide Saudi Arabia with billions worth of weapons in periodic “deals.” Still, in May, the Obama administration halted the sale of roughly 400 cluster bombs to the Saudis after human rights organizations documented the weapons’ use in civilian areas. This week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill moved to delay a $1 billion arms deal that would replace some of Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied tanks that have been damaged in the conflict.
International humanitarian law does not ban the use of white phosphorous outright, but there is a strict requirement that it be used only in areas clearly separated from civilians. Even using it against enemy combatants has raised concerns, given that the munitions can cause particularly horrific injuries. In the case of Saudi Arabia, neither consideration has prevented the kingdom from using the substance under any conditions.
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But it’s not just the use of US-supplied white phosphorus that is an issue, however.
A report by Amnesty International confirmed that a US-made explosive was used in an attack on a Yemeni hospital on August 15. The medical facility – Abs Rural Hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF/Medecins Sans Frontieres) – was hit by a strike that left 11 people dead and 19 others injured. Over 4,500 patients had been treated in the hospital since MSF began supporting it. he attack was the fourth over the last 10 months on an MSF facility in Yemen, and led the organization to close its hospitals in the north of the country.
Damage is seen inside a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres
after it was hit by a Saudi-led coalition air strike
Experts analyzed photos of munitions used in the bombing and concluded that a US-made precision-guided Paveway-series aerial bomb was among them. “Any attack on a medical facility in a war zone is an affront to humanity, yet this bombing is sadly just the latest in a grim series of attacks on hospitals and clinics by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition,” Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in the official press release. “Deliberate attacks on hospitals and medical facilities are serious violations of the laws of war and can never be justified. Hospitals, which have special protection under international humanitarian law, should be safe places of treatment and recovery,” he added.
“It is outrageous that states have continued to supply the Saudi Arabia-led coalition with weapons, including guided and general purpose aerial bombs and combat aircraft, despite stark evidence that those arms are being used to attack hospitals and other civilian objects and in other serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
Cited by RT, Luther called for a “comprehensive embargo on all weapons that could be used by any of the warring parties in Yemen,” and punishment for those behind the attack. Since he was referring to the US, that will not happen.
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Finally, and most troubling, two days ago the Guardian found that one third of 8,600 Saudi-led strikes in Yemen since March 2015 have targeted civilian sites such as hospitals, schools, and mosques. It comes as the US Senate is set to vote on a draft bill that could stop a $1.15 billion weapons and military equipment delivery by the US to Saudi Arabia. The bill was approved in August, but later that month 64 Senators signed a letter to halt the sale – ensuring that the Senate would discuss it.
Last November, the US State Department okayed the delivery of weapons worth $1.29 billion to Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that Amnesty International had repeatedly revealed they were being used in illegal and deadly attacks on civilians.
Since coming to office seven years ago, the Obama administration has made over $115 billion worth of arms sales to the Saudis – more than any other US presidential administration, a report in the Security Assistance Monitor said.
Over 3,700 civilians have been killed and some 2.8 million displaced by the ongoing war in Yemen, now in its second year, according to the latest estimates by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Which is also why while the US airwaves are constantly bombarded with news about the Syrian conflict, hardly any major outlet will touch the just as deadly Yemen war with a ten foot pole.