Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis claimed on Tuesday that US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen is helping to reduce civilian casualties in a conflict in which tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children have perished over the past three years.
Appearing at a Pentagon press briefing, Mattis was asked about reports that he did not raise the issue of civilian casualties during a meeting last week with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Washington, DC. The defense secretary called those reports “incorrect” and insisted he and the crown prince “talked about the humanitarian aspect and desire to end the war.” Mattis then argued that US aerial refueling of Saudi coalition warplanes helps pilots make better decisions about when to drop their bombs:
“When you look at such things as air refueling, when you’re a pilot in the air and you’ve got bombs on your wing and you got somebody calling on you to drop and you’re watching your fuel gauge go down, you say, ‘No you don’t. We’re going to refuel you. There’s no need for a rash or hasty decision there.’”
Mattis then said that the United States is teaching Saudi war planners how to avoid killing civilians by designating “no-strike zones,” which include “schools and hospitals.”
Perhaps the Saudis are slow learners, for they have bombed schools, hospitals, homes, markets, mosques, weddings and funerals in an air strike campaign the United Nations says has killed some 5,000 civilians. Additionally, a Saudi-led blockade has led to widespread famine and the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history. Last year, over 50,000 Yemeni children are believed to have died from disease or starvation.
Or perhaps the Americans are bad teachers. To borrow a phrase from President Donald Trump, the US has, after all, been been “bombing the shit out of” civilians in half a dozen predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen, over the course of its 16-year so-called war on terror. More than a million men, women and children are have died.
Mattis, who earned the “Mad Dog” moniker while commanding the atrocity-laden battle for Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, surely increased civilian death and suffering when he announced last year that the US was shifting to a policy of “annihilation” in the war against Islamic State, and warned that “civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation.” Civilian deaths soared as US air strikes pounded Mosul, Raqqa and other cities, towns and villages then controlled by IS militants. They’re still pulling bodies from the ruins of Mosul and Raqqa six months after IS was driven out.
“We’re not the perfect guys, but we’re the good guys,” Mattis asserted last year, and again at Tuesday’s press conference. This, just weeks after the “good guys” launched a series of drone strikes in Yemen that killed seven civilians, including a 13-year-old boy who was blown to bits as he returned home from visiting relatives in Hadramout province.
Last week, the US Senate narrowly defeated a bipartisan resolution introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would have ended US involvement in the Saudi-led war. Instead of cutting back on US support, Trump touted the sale of $12.5 billion worth of US weapons to Saudi Arabia during the crown prince’s visit. The United States is the world’s number one arms dealer. Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-biggest weapons importer. US support for Saudi war crimes in Yemen is all but sure to continue until the war’s last bomb has fallen, and innocent Yemenis will continue to pay the heaviest price.
Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. (firstname.lastname@example.org)