On Aug. 9, a laser-guided bomb hit a school bus in Yemen, killing dozens of children; some of the victims’ bodies were so mutilated they could not be identified. A week later, CNN reported that the 500-pound weapon had been sold to Saudi Arabia by Lockheed Martin. In 2016 a similar strike killed 155 people at a funeral hall in Yemen, and a U.S.-made bomb killed 97 people at a Yemeni market, two events that prompted the Obama administration to ban U.S. companies from selling precision-guided military technology to the Saudis. The ban did not last long: It was lifted in March 2017 by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The previous administration got it right. The United States has no immediate security interests in the military campaign, led by the Saudis and backed by the Yemeni government, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The conflict has led to thousands of civilian deaths, caused famine conditions and produced a cholera outbreak. Last month, Kareem Fahim of The Washington Post reported that the civilian death toll in Yemen could now be as high as 50,000.
The United States must bear responsibility for exacerbating what a U.N. fact-finding team has called “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.” The U.S. government has provided the Saudi-led air campaign with mid-air refueling and military advice, but the billions of dollars in arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition has had the most serious consequences. Fortunately, U.S. policy may be changing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly discussed the need to investigate the air strike on the school bus with a Saudi prince, and last month President Trump signed a defense spending bill calling on the State Department to certify that Saudi Arabia is making a genuine effort to reduce civilian casualties.
Attention to the role of advanced weaponry bought from U.S. companies must intensify, and these arms sales must be curtailed if the Saudis cannot bring their military operations in Yemen under control.