ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it is too early to tell what effect the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will have in Yemen, where there is a civil war raging between Iran-supported Houthi insurgents and the U.S.- and Saudi-backed government.
“Right now, I think it’s too early to tell which way the killing of Saleh will take it. Now, it could take it towards the—what we’ve been trying for how many months now, trying to get it this to the U.N.-brokered peace table,” he said to reporters traveling with him.
But, he added, “It could take it to an even more vicious war. It’s too early to say which way the dynamic will go.”
He said in the short term, things would likely get worse for civilians.
“One thing I think I can say with a lot of concern and—and probably likelihood is that the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to get worse in the short term,” he said.
“So this is where we’ve all got to roll up our sleeves and figure out what you’re going to do about medicine and food and clean water, cholera being the result of unclean water—what are we going to do about that even as we try to sort out the security/military situation and the diplomatic way ahead? I think there’s got to be a lot more focus on the humanitarian side right now,” he said.
After the Houthis ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from Sanaa in 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign that has been criticized for killing innocent civilians and has sparked human rights violation complaints.
The U.S. has also come under criticism for providing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and refueling support. Asked about that criticism, Mattis noted, “The Houthis have also been criticized for human rights violations.”
Although he called for more humanitarian aid for Yemeni civilians, Mattis said he did not see a Defense Department role in that.