Did you notice that when the US Secretaries of State and Defense called for a ceasefire in Yemen this week, they emphasised the harm caused by airstrikes on urban areas? The air forces of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and supporting states have targeted population centres throughout their three-year campaign to defeat Shia Houthi rebels backed by Iran. The Saudis call it “Operation Restoring Hope.”
On this website last July, I questioned the purpose and effectiveness of such airstrikes. Despite stringent precautions taken by the US-led coalition to minimise collateral damage during Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq and Syria, civilians there have been killed and displaced in significant numbers, and cities destroyed in part or whole.
In Yemen, the situation is far worse. According to a recent statement by the United Nations, “intense fighting, shelling and air strikes have continued to hit Hudaydah, leading to more than half a million having to leave their homes. Over 5,000 separate violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict have been recorded since May, including mass civilian casualties.”
Western complicity in Operation Restoring Hope is substantial. The US, the UK and France have supplied most of the combat aircraft used in the airstrikes, and most of their weapons. The US has been providing some 20% of the air-to-air refuelling capacity.
Moreover, American and British airmen have been located in the operations centre in Saudi Arabia which directs the air campaign. What are they doing there? I presume that they are advising on the capabilities and employment of the F-15s, F-16s, Tornados and Typhoons. According to a statement to Parliament by then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond in early 2016, the UK is “working with the Saudi Arabians to ensure the following of correct procedures to avoid breaches of international humanitarian law—to ensure that target sets are correctly identified and processes correctly followed and that only legitimate military targets are struck.” But are those Western airmen in Saudi Arabia also trying to persuade the Saudis and Emiratis to adhere to the strict rules of engagement as practiced by Western air forces over Iraq and Syria?
If so, they have not been very successful.