Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) marked the first anniversary of the US-backed, Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen by questioning America’s role in the civil war and arguing that US involvement there is fueling more terrorism.
“The United States should only engage in military actions that advance our national security objectives and help keep Americans safe,” Murphy asserted in a statement released on Saturday. “I have yet to see any evidence that the war we’re enabling in Yemen meets either of those conditions, and am gravely concerned that our actions in Yemen are not only distracting us from the fight against terrorism, but aiding the very groups that are intent on attacking us.”
“With little public debate, the US has a key role in a misguided war that has killed 3,000 innocent civilians,” Murphy continued. “While all sides clearly share responsibility for the violence, the UN reported that most civilian deaths are the result of the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial bombing—including 119 civilians killed in a single strike last week.”
In one of the deadliest attacks on the war, Saudi warplanes bombed a crowded market in Hajja province in northwestern Yemen on March 15, killing 119 civilians including at least 22 children. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the attack, calling it and other similar strikes “possibly… international crimes.” The market bombing was the deadliest single incident involving civilian casualties since a Saudi-led air strike on a wedding party in the Red Sea village of Al-Wahijah, near the ancient port of Al-Mokha, killed 131 people including many women and children last September.
Murphy argued such incidents are helping terrorist groups and fueling hatred of the United States among Yemenis.
“The resulting chaos has allowed for al-Qaeda to vastly expand the territory and infrastructure under its control, and provided an opening for the rise of ISIS,” he said in the statement. “Anti-Americanism is spiking amidst widespread belief that the United States is responsible for the indiscriminate bombing.”
While there is no direct American armed involvement in the war, the US is providing intelligence, air-to-air refueling and military advisory assistance to the Saudi-led coalition backing the contested Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels aligned with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The UN Human Rights office has recorded nearly 9,000 deaths in the war, including 3,128 civilians killed and another 5,778 wounded. As Murphy noted in his statement, the coalition is responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, although human rights groups including Amnesty International say all sides in Yemen’s civil war have committed war crimes.
“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes,” said Zeid, the UN human rights chief. “They have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties—and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities including the capital Sana’a.”
Murphy said the US ”has no business getting involved in a war that has only served to empower our terrorist enemies, exacerbate a humanitarian crisis, and incite fear and anger among the Yemeni people toward the United States.” He added that the Obama administration “must make every effort to facilitate a durable ceasefire, support serious political negotiations, and put an end to this disastrous war.”
This wasn’t Murphy’s first objection to US involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Last October, he lamented the high number of civilian casualties and questioned whether backing the Saudi-led coalition served American national security interests. In a January speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, he called for a suspension of US support and military sales to Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian regime—one of the world’s worst human rights violators—until it could be determined that the campaign “does not distract from the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda, and until we make some progress on the Saudi export of Wahhabism,” the fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that dominates Saudi religious life.
The late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as the 15 Saudi militants who participated in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, were Wahhabis, and Wahhabism was introduced to the Taliban in Afghanistan by bin Laden and other Saudi extremists.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the capital city of Sana’a as coalition warplanes roared overhead to protest the Saudi-led intervention, the Washington Post reports. Demonstrators waved Yemeni flags and chanted slogans including “end the siege” and “fight the Saudi aggression and its agents until their last man.”
“I have come today to support my country,” Ali al-Hamdani, a 30-year-old farmer from nearby Hamdan, told the Post. “It has been exactly a year since this barbaric war started, and we have been suffering from all kinds of oppression by the Saudis, whether economically or politically.”