Sunday, October 9, 2016

140 Houthis killed in a massive airstrike in Yemen.

Civilians inspect the extent of the damage. Reuters. 

Saudi airplanes have struck a wake in Sanaa, Yemen, killing 140+ people and wounding 500 more. Reuters. The wake was for the father of the Houthi administration's interior minister, Jalal al-Roweishan. The death toll in the attack is one of the worst since the Saudis entered the war in 2015. The White House issued a strong statement condemning the attack, noting that their help in the war wasn't a "blank check" and that they would look into reducing their assistance to the campaign. Saudi Arabia has, for it's part, denied any involvement in the attack. At least two local officials died in the attack, but is unclear if Roweishan was at the wake when the strike happened. 

My Comment:
I decided to post about this because the story is getting buried. Everyone is talking about Donald Trump's potty mouth and ignoring a massive airstrike that killed more then 100 people. In a couple of days or weeks nobody is going to remember what Trump said, but this event is already having major reverberations throughout the region. Though Yemen has taken a back seat to everything else that has happened, I think it is still important to cover it, even if it doesn't get that many pageviews for me. 

First of all, I find Saudi Arabia's denial of this attack to be ludicrous at best. They have had total air superiority throughout the entire conflict. There is no way that the Houthi's did this themselves and there aren't a lot of other suspects besides the Saudi coalition. That doesn't mean it was Saudi Arabia, since other countries have deployed aircraft in Saudi Arabia's coalition, but that's just splitting hairs at this point. Someone in the Saudi chain of command either approved this strike or didn't stop it when they found out what was happening. Even if they didn't carry out the strike directly, they are still responsible for it. 

I guess it could be possible that this was a US airstrike. That seems extremely dubious at best. We don't have all that many forces in the area, and if we did pull off this strike, what would be the point? Our main goal in Yemen is to stop the growth of both al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS. We want to prevent them from gaining and holding territory, and most or all of our attacks in the country have been focused on those two targets. Neither of those goals are really helped by attacking a Houthi funeral, so the idea that the United States was behind this attack is stupid, even if we do have the capability of doing so. 

The real question is if this act was deliberate or an accident. That's going to be a hard question to answer, and I am guessing that a lot of people are going to say it doesn't matter either way. After all, 140+ people are dead, and incompetence at that level is as good as malice. The people are still dead in either case.

But could it have been an accident? I think it is possible. This kind of looks like an assassination attempt on Minster Roweishan. Though it is currently unknown if he survived this attack, he was the most critical person at the wake. Perhaps the Saudis had some kind of tracking device or informant with him and they didn't realize where he was going? If so, that's a hell of a mistake, the first rule of shooting is that you make sure what your target is. Generally speaking, you should be able to tell if your assassination target is in a large building filled with hundreds of people. If it was a mistake it's an unforgivable one, and reason enough alone to pull back our support. 

The other option is a deliberate attack. If so, then that is a major escalation in the Yemeni War. Such an attack, if deliberate, sends a pretty clear signal to the Houthis, their Iranian backers and the rest of the world that the Saudis and their allies no longer care about the number of casualties they inflict. That message may be intended as saying "we will kill and injure hundreds of people just to kill one of our enemies".

I have to say, even though this attack was brutal, I do admire the dedication that the Saudis are showing, if it was deliberate. I'm not saying that this strike was in any way justified, especially since I don't think that Roweishan is a particularly valid target. But I do think that western governments take civilian casualties so seriously that it impairs our war fighting abilities. Obviously, this is the other extreme, and it should be condemned, but there is something refreshing about a government saying "yes, we will fight this war to win it". Open evil is at least more honest then a "limited" bombing campaign that lets targets go and keeps the war going for a much longer time. 

That doesn't mean that we should be supporting the Saudis anymore though. I have long said that the situation in Yemen is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and we don't have much interest in who wins or loses. I am glad that the Pentagon is reviewing their involvement in this war and I hope we scale it back completely, with our only cooperation with the Saudis being on the topic of ISIS and AQAP. We don't need to support people that bomb wakes, especially not when we are getting so little in return. 

I have always said that the Saudi's are pretty terrible allies. Yes, they provide a counter balance to Iran, but they also fund Islamic extremism, treat women as cattle, and provide support for terrorism. They also treat gay people like criminals worthy of death, and sometimes even kill them. And now they are fighting a brutal war in Yemen, which is killing hundreds of people. They are not the good guys in the region, and I really don't understand why we are still so close to them.

Part of it is money, obviously. The Saudis are very rich and they have a massive, disproportionate influence on American politics and business. I hate to bring it back to the election, but it's true that Hillary Clinton has taken a lot of money from Saudis, and given how horrible Saudi Arabia is, that should disqualify her. But she's far from the only one and getting Saudi money out of our election process should be a priority. 

All that being said, the Yemen war has completely fallen under the radar for most of the country. Part of that is because of the minimal western involvement in the war. Part of it is that AQAP has taken a much less aggressive role then ISIS has in Syria, Iraq and Libya. But most of all, I think is because of Saudi influence. Though Reuters and a few other news outlets are covering this story, compare the coverage to the attack on an aid convoy in Syria or the US bombing Syrian troops "by accident" near Dier Ez Zor. This story will die because the Saudis want it to, and I am guessing after today and maybe tomorrow, we won't hear anything more about it... 

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