WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabia-led Sunni coalition fighting the Iran-allied Shiite Houthis to restore the internationally recognized government has exacerbated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, experts told a House panel on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the jihadi groups most intent on attacking the American homeland, is taking advantage of the chaos in Yemen to entrench itself deeper, Katherine Zimmerman from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and International Terrorism during a hearing.
Since March 2015, the U.S. military-supported Saudi coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis and to a much lesser extent al-Qaeda and other jihadis.
In defiance of U.S. President Donald Trump’s continued support for the Saudi-led coalition that began under his predecessor, the Democrat-led House, claiming to be asserting authority over war-making powers, voted to end American funding for the war in Yemen last month.
Although the Senate, which passed a similar resolution last year, is also expected to vote on the measure, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the legislation. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis and skepticism of the United States partnership with Saudi coalition, especially in light of Sunni kingdom’s alleged role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter and critic of the royal family.
On Wednesday, most witnesses — Dr. Dafna Rand, a former U.S. official now with the Mercy Corps, Radhya Almutawakel from the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights in Yemen, and Jeremy Konyndyk, a former U.S. official now with the Center for Global Development — urged House panel members to end U.S. military support for American partners in Yemen.
Zimmerman, however, advised against it, noting in her written testimony:
America has vital national security interests in Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the terrorist groups most focused on attacking the US homeland, retains a safe haven and support among local populations there
AQAP is still the dominant and most capable Salafi-jihadi group in Yemen, which continues to serve as a critical safe haven supporting al Qaeda’s global operations and providing sanctuary to senior al Qaeda leaders.
Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the U.S. have been fighting to push the terrorist group out Yemen in recent years and have “markedly weakened the organization,” AQAP “remains positioned to resurge from setback and benefits from the continuation of the civil war,” Zimmerman added.
Zimmerman elaborated further after the hearing, telling Breitbart News, “The Emiratis have been America’s counterterrorism partner in Yemen and have degraded and disrupted al Qaeda in southern and eastern Yemen. They also were behind a recent raid to free an American held hostage by a kidnapping gang that was threatening to sell him to al Qaeda.”
“But the Emiratis have also backed the best militias on the ground against the al Houthis in western Yemen, which have had a Salafi bent, inadvertently setting conditions for al Qaeda to resurge once the UAE decides to draw down its counterterrorism operations,” she continued.
Dr. Rand suggested U.S. policy in Yemen has “failed,” adding in her written testimony:
The United States should end all operational support for the Saudi-led Coalition. America’s involvement in this war has undermined U.S. global leadership and derailed the pursuit of key U.S. national security interests. U.S. material support for the Coalition has set back global human rights norms.
Almutawakel added in her written testimony:
By ending U.S. arms sales and military and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Congress can make clear that you do not accept and will not continue the status quo in Yemen – because the status quo means American allies using American weapons to kill, maim, and starve Yemeni civilians with impunity. This would be a very significant first step toward accountability and peace.
Konyndyk also noted in his prepared remarks:
Reducing civilian harm means stopping the war, and using the totality of US leverage to do so. As long as the war continues, the [Saudi] Coalition will continue using civilians as leverage, trying to achieve through their suffering what it has been unable to achieve on the battlefield.
Zimmerman further pointed out:
America’s reliance on Gulf partners to secure its interests in Yemen has been largely counterproductive. The coalition’s military intervention has made few strategic gains over the past four years while worsening the humanitarian catastrophe. The toll on civilians from both coalition and al Houthi actions is indefensible
However, the AEI expert urged the U.S. to maintain its military support for the Saudi coalition, arguing that doing so will allow the United States to keep its leverage over the Sunni alliance.
The time has not yet come to end that [military] support because the US has simply not put enough effort into either shaping their behavior or helping them think through better strategies and objectives. America must regain a position of leadership in shaping coalition policies and strategies in Yemen. It need not—and should not—deploy many troops to Yemen or otherwise attempt to take over the fighting. Nor do our partners on the whole require money.
During the hearing, experts noted that both the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels had prevented aid from entering Yemen, a country that relies on imports from nearly 90 percent of its food and supplies.
“Yemenis are not starving, they are being starved. Parties to the conflict are using starvation as a weapon of war. They are blocking aid, impeding commercial imports, and destroying critical infrastructure,” Almutawakel observed.