What the Deployment of Green Berets to the Saudi-Yemen Border Tells Us About America’s Dirty War

The U.S. tries to distance itself from Saudi war crimes in Yemen—but it’s always been America’s war too.

Shireen Al-Adeimi May 7, 2018

A Yemeni boy stands in the rubble of buildings destroyed in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on February 25, 2016 in the capital Sanaa. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has long sought to dis­tance itself from the moral­ly inex­cus­able war on Yemen — but this pub­lic rela­tions effort is even more dif­fi­cult after The New York Times report­ed on May 3 that, in Decem­ber of last year, U.S. Spe­cial Forces (com­mon­ly known as the Green Berets) deployed to Sau­di Arabia’s bor­der with Yemen. Though Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE are occu­py­ing parts of Yemen, the coun­tries rely on Yemeni, Latin Amer­i­can, Sudanese, Black­wa­ter and even al-Qae­da mer­ce­nar­ies to fight on the ground. Mer­ce­nar­ies also include for­mer U.S. Mil­i­tary offi­cer Stephen Touma­jan, who com­mands the UAE’s mil­i­tary heli­copter branch. The Sau­di-Yemeni bor­der, on the oth­er hand, rep­re­sents the only front where Yemeni and Sau­di sol­diers are engaged in direct on-the-ground com­bat. By plac­ing Amer­i­can spe­cial forces at the Sau­di-Yemeni bor­der, the Unit­ed States is engaged in direct com­bat with Yemen’s Houthis.

Without first seeking congressional approval, the United States launched into action alongside the Saudis, offering logistical support and training to the Saudi military.

Not only does this real­i­ty con­tra­dict the Pentagon’s pre­vi­ous state­ments about its involve­ment in Yemen, it also brings into ques­tion the U.S. government’s intend­ed goals. Is the U.S. mil­i­tary so com­mit­ted to achiev­ing Sau­di Arabia’s mis­sion to regain con­trol of Yemen that it is will­ing to risk Amer­i­can lives? Alter­na­tive­ly, if the U.S. is advis­ing and train­ing sol­diers, repair­ing and refu­el­ing air­craft, patrolling Yemeni waters along­side Sau­di Ara­bia and now fight­ing Yeme­nis on the ground, is it real­ly just Sau­di Arabia’s war on Yemen?

Fol­low­ing the lat­est rev­e­la­tions of the increased U.S. role in Yemen, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he would seek fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion on these activ­i­ties,” while Rep. Mark Pocan urged Con­gress to stop this secret, uncon­sti­tu­tion­al war.” Yet mem­bers of Con­gress ought to con­sid­er that this has always been America’s war — from the very beginning.

Under the pre­tense of restor­ing Yemen’s Unit­ed Nations-rec­og­nized pres­i­dent Abd-Rab­bu Man­sour Hadi to pow­er and cur­tail­ing Iran’s sup­posed influ­ence in Yemen, the Sau­di-led coali­tion — includ­ing the Unit­ed States — launched a bru­tal mil­i­tary cam­paign on March 26, 2015. Arms deal­ers across the world rushed to cap­i­tal­ize on a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty: cus­tomers with deep pockets. 

Despite pur­chas­ing the lat­est smart” bombs that, in the­o­ry, should min­i­mize civil­ian casu­al­ties, the Sau­di-led coali­tion con­tin­ues to kill stag­ger­ing num­bers of civil­ians in Yemen. These include indis­crim­i­nate attacks on civil­ians and civil­ian infra­struc­ture that have led to the col­lapse of the health, eco­nom­ic and edu­ca­tion­al sec­tors in Yemen. Recent­ly, airstrikes tar­get­ed a wed­ding par­ty that left the bride and 32 oth­ers dead, while the injured endured an hour-long jour­ney to the near­est Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders-sup­port­ed hos­pi­tal using don­keys. Sau­di Ara­bia and its allies are also using star­va­tion as a weapon by impos­ing a land air and sea block­ade that keeps food and med­i­cines out, while trap­ping peo­ple in. Despite com­mit­ting appar­ent war crimes in Yemen, they con­tin­ue to be assist­ed mil­i­tar­i­ly by mem­bers of the inter­na­tion­al community.

Coun­tries such as Cana­da, the Unit­ed King­dom and the Unit­ed States con­tin­ue to sell bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of arms to the Sau­di-led coali­tion despite warn­ings from human rights groups about their use against Yemeni civil­ians. But immoral as they are, sell­ing weapons to war­ring par­ties does not in itself con­sti­tute the seller’s mil­i­tary entan­gle­ment in the buyer’s war. In this regard, how­ev­er, the Unit­ed States dis­tin­guish­es itself from most coun­tries not offi­cial­ly in the Sau­di-led coali­tion. As we enter the fourth year of the war on Yemen, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent that the Unit­ed States is, in fact, at war with Yemen. 

With­out first seek­ing con­gres­sion­al approval, the Unit­ed States launched into action along­side the Saud­is, offer­ing logis­ti­cal sup­port and train­ing to the Sau­di mil­i­tary. Specif­i­cal­ly, the U.S. Army trains Sau­di sol­diers, advis­es mil­i­tary per­son­nel, and helps main­tain, repair and update vehi­cles and air­craft sold to the Saud­is. The U.S. Army also refu­els Sau­di air­craft mid-air in Yemeni air­space. This sup­port is not with­out com­pen­sa­tion: The U.S. Army boasts123 con­tracts in Sau­di Ara­bia total­ing more than $120 mil­lion per month. 

This lev­el of involve­ment in Sau­di Arabia’s war on Yemen prompt­ed mem­bers of Con­gress to invoke the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion twice since Octo­ber 2017 — once in the House and once more in the Sen­ate—to chal­lenge the unau­tho­rized U.S. role in Yemen. The House mea­sure (H.Con.Res.81) was stripped of its priv­i­leged sta­tus and was there­fore not grant­ed a vote in Con­gress. The Sen­ate bill (S.J.Res.54), intro­duced by Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), fared bet­ter in that it was not stripped of its sta­tus. How­ev­er, rather than vot­ing to extri­cate the Unit­ed States from hos­til­i­ties in Yemen, Sen­a­tors instead vot­ed to table the bill. The extent of U.S. sup­port to the Sau­di-led Coali­tion, how­ev­er, con­tin­ues to be uncovered.

As the U.S. Con­gress fails to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for with­draw­ing U.S. sup­port from the Sau­di-led war, the world’s worst human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis con­tin­ues to unfold in Yemen, the poor­est coun­try in the Mid­dle East. With more than 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in need of human­i­tar­i­an aid, most Yeme­nis are unable to find food, water, med­i­cine, fuel and oth­er basic neces­si­ties of life. While some reports indi­cate at least 10,000 civil­ians have been killed in the war, a less-report­ed fig­ure is the death of 113,000 chil­dren—63,000 in 2016 and anoth­er 50,000 in 2017 — whose lives were cut short due to mal­nu­tri­tion and pre­ventable dis­eases such as cholera. The cri­sis in Yemen is the direct result of a three-year bomb­ing cam­paign and block­ade imposed on Yemen by U.S. allies Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. As Yemen’s wealth­i­est neigh­bors con­tin­ue to destroy it, the Unit­ed States has respond­ed by secret­ly increas­ing its mil­i­tary role.

U.S. law­mak­ers — and the Amer­i­can peo­ple — must not ignore this role any longer.

Shireen Al-Adei­mi is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty. Hav­ing lived through two civ­il wars in her coun­try of birth, Yemen, she has played an active role in rais­ing aware­ness about the U.S.-supported, Sau­di-led war on Yemen since 2015. Through her work, she aims to encour­age polit­i­cal action among fel­low Amer­i­cans to bring about an end to U.S. inter­ven­tion in Yemen.
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