Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. It’s the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children.
The move follows rising criticism by U.S. lawmakers of America’s support for the oil-rich monarchy in the year-long conflict. Washington has sold weapons and provided training, targeting information, and aerial refueling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It has also sold Riyadh millions of dollars’ worth of cluster bombs in recent years.
Asked about the hold on the shipments, a senior U.S. official cited reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster bombs “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity.”
Cluster bombs are some of the world’s absolute worst weapons: indiscriminate, highly lethal to civilians, and dangerous even years after the conflict ends, a la landmines. Their use in Yemen has been alleged for months to have been indiscriminate enough to qualify as a war crime. And while this ban on their sale to the Saudis may save some lives, the fact is that Washington doesn’t seem prepared to stop sending plenty of other lethal arms, along with targeting information and aircraft parts, to the Saudis to enable them to keep killing plenty of Yemenis.
On a positive note, peace talks between the Houthi-Saleh rebels and the government-Saudi coalition, which looked stalemated a couple of weeks ago, are now back on track according to the UN Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. The goal is to reach a deal on a prisoner swap before Ramadan begins (on June 5 or thereabouts), and then build on that success moving forward. Fingers crossed.