US Approves Saudi Use Of Banned Cluster Bombs (But Only If They're Extra Careful)

Following a report on Sunday, where Human Rights Watch said video and photographic evidence showed that Saudi Arabia used cluster bombs near villages in Yemen’s Saada Province at least two separate times, the US State Department said it is "looking into" the allegations but, as Foreign Policy reports, said the notoriously imprecise weapon — banned by much of the world — could still have an appropriate role to play in Riyadh’s U.S.-backed offensive (as long as it was used carefully).

Human Rights Watch details credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today.

Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.



Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia.



“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.”

However, as Foreign Policy reports, the State Department said it is "looking into" the allegations...

“We’re looking into those details carefully. I don’t have an outcome of that to report,”  State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in answer to questions about the HRW report. “We take all accounts of civilian deaths in the ongoing hostilities in Yemen very seriously.”




On Monday, Rathke noted that U.S. law and policy dictates that the United States may only export cluster munitions to foreign buyers if the weapon’s unexploded ordnance rate does not exceed one percent. The U.S. also requires that the governments buying U.S. cluster bombs “must commit that cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians,” said Rathke.


When Foreign Policy asked if cluster bombs were “appropriate” to use in the U.S.-backed air campaign in Yemen, Rathke said they were so long as they’re used “against clearly defined military targets.”


“That’s our policy on those,” he said.




On the humanitarian front, U.S. officials have privately noted concerns about civilian casualties and fears that Riyadh is failing to properly vet the local fighters it’s arming in Yemen. But publicly, the White House fully backs the operation.


Rathke said “we share the concerns regarding unintended harm to civilians caused by the use of cluster munitions.”


“The United States remains the single largest financial supporter of addressing the explosive remnants of war,” he added.

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And single largest supplier of explosives and creator of the need for them...