The United States went to war with a new country this week and nobody even noticed.
A US navy destroyer fired a barrage of cruise missiles at three radar sites controlled by the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, according to the Pentagon. The attack marks the first time the US has fought the rebels directly in Yemen’s devastating civil war, and has dragged the country into another protracted and escalating conflict.
“These unjustified attacks are serious but they will not deter us from our mission,” Admiral John Richardson said, referring to attempted missile strikes on American warships patrolling the Red Sea. “We are trained and ready to defend ourselves and to respond quickly and decisively.”
However it is not clear what the US mission is, beyond supporting Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration are not talking about the situation, the Pentagon’s official statements are cagey, and, remarkably, the media have ignored America’s entry into a new war, preferring to hypnotize the public with blanket coverage of lurid allegations against Donald Trump.
U.S. officials claimed to Reuters that there were “growing indications” the rebels or allied forces had carried out strikes on Sunday, which saw two coastal cruise missiles launched at the warship. However, Houthi rebels have denied involvement, stating that allegations otherwise from U.S. officials were pretext to “escalate aggression and cover up crimes committed against the Yemeni people.”
There was no immediate word on any casualties from the US attack on the radar sites, which the Pentagon noted came with the direct authorization of Barack Obama.
“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
In addition to making the U.S. an official combatant in the war, the strikes further complicate a tense situation on the ground in Yemen. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition bombed a funeral ceremony on Saturday, killing at least 155 people. Human rights advocates on Capitol Hill and beyond implored the US to stop supporting the Saudi campaign, although the Obama administration recently authorized a $1.13 billion arms sale to the Gulf kingdom.
As the New York Times reported on Thursday, Human Rights Watch declared the funeral bombing “an apparent war crime,” writing in a news brief, “[w]hile military personnel and civilian officials involved in the war effort were attending the ceremony, the clear presence of several hundred civilians strongly suggests that the attack was unlawfully disproportionate.”
Likewise, on Wednesday, even before the U.S. launched the missiles, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) urged the administration to cut ties with Saudi Arabia over the more than 70 strikes the coalition has carried out in Yemen that he described as unlawful.
US urged to cut ties with Saudi Arabia
“It appears that either the Saudi coalition is intentionally targeting civilians or they are not distinguishing between civilians and military targets. Both would be war crimes,” Lieu wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Immediately stopping the aiding and abetting of the Saudi military coalition would not only help reduce the legal risk to U.S. officials, it would send a strong message to the world that the U.S. respects the law of war and basic human rights,” the letter continued. “As you know, the State Department has an entire office dedicated to preventing foreign entities from committing war crimes. The credibility of that office has been shredded by the U.S.-enabled airstrikes on civilians in Yemen.”
But as political professor and Middle East expert Christopher Davidson posited on Thursday, keeping the war going is exactly the point.
By launching the strikes on Wednesday, “the U.S. has made a direct, but very limited intervention to ensure that no one side is really able to get the upper hand in the country’s slow-burning conflict,” he said in a statement for the Institute for Public Accuracy. “The longer the current Yemen conflict lasts, the longer the arms race will keep going, and the more dependent both Saudi and Iranian clients will be on support from their patrons.”