The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a scathing report Monday which found that the Department of Defense and the Department of State “have not fully determined the extent to which U.S. military support has contributed to civilian harm in Yemen.” The news comes on the heels of the announcement that US President Joe Biden will be paying a visit next month to Saudi Arabia, a country which in 2019 he pledged to turn into a “pariah.”
“Despite several reports that airstrikes and other attacks by Saudi Arabia and UAE have caused extensive civilian harm in Yemen, [the Department of Defense] has not reported and [the State Department] could not provide evidence that it investigated any incidents of potential unauthorized use of equipment transferred to Saudi Arabia or UAE,” the GAO report concluded.
In February 2021, US President Joe Biden declared he was ending “all American support for offensive operations” in the Saudi war on Yemen. GAO monitors pointed out that while US Military Training Mission staff claimed that “all of the equipment the US sells… to Saudi Arabia must be for defensive purposes,” the “officials could not provide a definition for equipment that is defensive in nature when asked how they distinguish between equipment used for defensive purposes and equipment used for offensive purposes.”
Instead, the report’s authors noted, State Department officials “told us they have no specific definitions for what constitutes ‘offensive weapons’ and ‘defensive weapons’ to direct the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
The report also found that from fiscal year 2015 to 2021, the “Department of Defense administered at least $54.6 billion of military support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of which over a third, or $18.3 billion, came in the form of missiles. The remaining military aid was reportedly spent as follows: $7.6 billion on equipment maintenance, $6.2 billion on aircraft, $4.9 billion on “special activities,” $4.6 billion on communication, detection, and coherent radiation equipment, $3.3 billion on ships, $2.8 billion on training, $1.4 billion on construction, $1.2 billion on ammunition, $1.1 billion on support equipment, $900 million on weapons, and $1.8 billion on other expenditures like combat, tactical, and support vehicles, as well as research and development.
Although “the United Nations has characterized the conflict in Yemen as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises,” the report’s authors explain that the US has “long-standing security relationships with Saudi Arabia and UAE—two primary actors in the conflict—and has continued to provide them military support, including for operations in Yemen since 2015.”
In April, 32 US Congress members urged Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to commit to a “recalibration of the US-Saudi partnership,” noting that the US’ “continued unqualified support for the Saudi monarchy, which systematically, ruthlessly represses its own citizens, targets critics all over the world, carries out a brutal war in Yemen, and bolsters authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa, runs counter to US national interests and damages the credibility of the United States to uphold our values.”
But with Biden’s announcement that he’ll be flying to Riyadh next month for what the Saudi embassy described as “official talks” between Joe Biden and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the odds of such an adjustment taking place–and of US agencies taking a more proactive approach towards American involvement in alleged Saudi war crimes–are growing ever-slimmer.