U.S. Army Green Berets Assist Saudis in Yemen While Sudan Considers Pullout

Yemeni fighters loyal to the government backed by the Saudi-led coalition ride in the back of a pickup truck during their the offensive in the Mesini Valley in the vast province of Hadramawt in February 2018
AFP/SALEH AL-OBEIDI

The New York Times reported on Thursday that U.S. Army Green Berets have been quietly working with Saudi forces in Yemen since late last year, allegedly in contradiction of official statements that America gave only logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi insurgents.

The news comes as Sudan considers withdrawing from participation in the Saudi intervention, which has now been in progress for over three years.

To be more specific, the New York Times report holds that a very small force of about a dozen Green Berets has been working on the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen since December, “helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities.”

The mission began after the Houthis fired a ballistic missile at the civilian airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The Green Berets are said to be using advanced surveillance equipment to pinpoint Houthi missile launch sites.

While writing that the revelation is a “continuing escalation of America’s secret wars,” the Times admits, “There is no indication that the American commandos have crossed into Yemen as part of the secretive mission.”

That is not incompatible with congressional testimony from the Trump administration cited by the NYT:

During a meeting on Capitol Hill in March, senators pressed Pentagon officials about the military’s role in the Saudi-led conflict, demanding to know whether American troops were at risk of entering into hostilities against the Houthis.

Pentagon officials told the senators what had already been said publicly: that American forces stationed in Saudi Arabia only advised within the kingdom’s borders and were focused mostly on border defense.

“We are authorized to help the Saudis defend their border,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of United States Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 13. “We are doing that through intelligence sharing, through logistics support and through military advice that we provide to them.”

On April 17, Robert S. Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States had about 50 military personnel in Saudi Arabia, “largely helping on the ballistic missile threat.”

U.S. forces have long been committed to helping Saudi Arabia secure its borders – the Times acknowledges it is an imperative that can be traced back to a 2015 memo written by Susan Rice, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser at the time. Preventing the Houthis from lobbing intercontinental ballistic missiles at Saudi cities fits into a mission to help them secure their borders.

As noted at the end of the New York Times piece, the Houthis favor mobile and easily-hidden missile launchers, so targeting them is very difficult. If the Green Berets are locating these weapons and handing the data over to Saudi coalition forces for airstrikes, that may not “contradict Pentagon statements that American military assistance to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and general intelligence sharing,” as asserted in the opening paragraphs of the article.

The Houthis use their missiles to attack civilian targets within the borders of a U.S. ally, from border towns to Riyadh itself. The New York Times may have forgotten the Houthis have also used their missiles to threaten ships off the Yemeni coast, including U.S. Navy ships. If the Yemeni insurgents ever manage to hit Riyadh’s airport with an ICBM, the loss of civilian life would be staggering, and the death toll would very likely include Americans and Europeans.

Americans and their policymakers are clearly concerned that the Saudi campaign in Yemen is not going well. Defense Minister Ali Mohammed Salem of Sudan said on Wednesday that his country is reconsidering its participation in the Saudi coalition after three years, citing the mounting casualties among Sudanese troops and the economic difficulties facing Sudan.

Members of the Sudanese parliament urged President Omar al-Bashir to withdraw troops from Yemen on Sunday, arguing that the extended deployment is unconstitutional and Sudan “should not interfere in the affairs of other countries.”

A rebel ambush reportedly killed dozens of Sudanese soldiers on Sunday in a predawn strike on a military convoy. Houthi sources also claim to have destroyed a number of armored vehicles in the attack.

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