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US backs coalition action in Yemen

 Pompeo, Mattis say all steps taken to reduce civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure
The coalition supports the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi

WASHINGTON: Two senior US officials gave Washington’s seal of approval on Wednesday to the Saudi-led Arab Coalition’s military campaign to restore the legitimate government in Yemen.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had certified that coalition partners Saudi Arabia and the UAE were acting to reduce risks to civilians in their military operations.

The assessment is required by the US Congress for it to continue allowing US air tankers to refuel Saudi and UAE warplanes.

Pompeo said both countries were “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”

Pompeo said Washington would work closely with the coalition to ensure Saudi and UAE support for UN peace efforts and to allow unimpeded access for commercial and humanitarian relief supplies to reach Yemenis. “The Trump administration has been clear that ending the conflict in Yemen is a national security priority,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a separate statement endorsing the certification, and said the UAE and Saudi Arabia were making “every effort” to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage. Mattis had cautioned last month that US support for the coalition was “not unconditional,” and it must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life, and support the UN-brokered peace process.”

The coalition supports the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which is fighting Iran-backed Houthi militias who seized control of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Pompeo’s assessment that the coalition is making a concerted effort to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage is correct, Fahad Nazer, a political consultant to the Saudi Embassy in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations, told Arab News.

“I have personally attended a briefing by a coalition representative that highlighted the various measures and multiple safeguards that are in place to minimize civilian casualties,” he said.

“An objective assessment of the military operation in Yemen should confirm that these precautionary measures have been effective in minimizing collateral damage.

“The coalition has sought and received the assistance of the US and the UK to improve targeting and reduce civilian casualties. It is also important to note that the Joint Incidents Assessments Team investigates claims of civilian casualties and the coalition has accepted its findings.

“The coalition has acknowledged that mistakes have been made during the course of the conflict and has issued statements expressing its regret for certain incidents. It has also maintained that those who do not follow its strict guidelines on targeting will be held responsible.

“And here one must draw a sharp distinction between mistakes and targeting civilians as a matter of policy. There is ample evidence that is exactly what the Houthis have done and continue to do.”
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