Over a year ago we reported on the fact that the Saudi-US-UAE coalition in Yemen has been increasingly reliant on foreign mercenaries, including even officers, from Sudan to execute its three-year long ground war against Shia Houthi rebels as coalition jets pounded urban areas from the skies. As this was long before the brutal Jamal Khashoggi killing at the hands of the Saudis, we were among a tiny handful that bothered to cover it — aside from a few Middle East outlets — significantly before western mainstream media suddenly "discovered" the tragedy unfolding in Yemen, a Saudi-driven conflict the UN has belatedly called "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".
But Khashoggi's death and crown prince MbS' new pariah status means The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and others have finally decided to spotlight Yemen and dig into inconvenient truths of the war at a moment the United States has pledged to greatly lessen its role and as the US Senate is scrutinizing American involvement, including the Pentagon's recently halting its aerial refueling program to Saudi-UAE jets. What does the latest NYT coverage find? The Saudi coalition — made up of America's closest Middle East allies — is sending child mercenaries from Darfur to the front lines of the Yemen war.
According to the Times report:
Led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudis say they are battling to rescue Yemen from a hostile faction backed by Iran. But to do it, the Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to outsource the war, mainly by hiring what Sudanese soldiers say are tens of thousands of desperate survivors of the conflict in Darfur to fight, many of them children.
At any given time throughout the past almost four years of war (the Saudis entered Yemen in early 2015), some 14,000 Sudanese mercenaries have been fighting alongside pro-Saudi forces, often on the front lines in places their UAE officers won't dare to go.
For families in war-torn Sudan, the Saudis' deep pockets and lucrative payment offers to send their young to fight in Yemen has proven irresistible given no other means of survival, according to the story of one such family:
Then, around the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia offered a lifeline: The kingdom would pay as much as $10,000 if Hager joined its forces fighting 1,200 miles away in Yemen.
Hager, 14 at the time, could not find Yemen on a map, and his mother was appalled. He had survived one horrific civil war — how could his parents toss him into another? But the family overruled her.
“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager said in an interview last week in the capital, Khartoum, a few days after his 16th birthday.
Noticeably, unlike all prior scant reporting on Yemen, the New York Times actually features Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's name front and center as responsible for such evils and injustice.
The Saudi Arabia government has been outsourcing the ground war in Yemen to Sudanese men and boys from Darfur--turning many into child soldiers--paying impoverished people and directing them by radio so no Saudi soldiers need to be on the ground in Yemen. https://t.co/XcKQaTcJDx pic.twitter.com/2AfRMHuEaC— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) December 29, 2018
Most Americans might be forgiven for having no clue what the war in Yemen actually looks like, especially as Western media has spent at least the first three years of the conflict completely ignoring the mass atrocities taking place while white-washing the Saudi coalition's crimes. Unlike wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, which received near daily coverage as they were at their most intense, and in which many Americans could at least visualize the battlefield and the actors involved through endless photographs and video from on the ground, Yemen's war has largely been a faceless and nameless conflict as far as major media is concerned.
Aside from mainstream media endlessly demonstrating its collective ignorance of Middle East dynamics, it is also no secret that the oil and gas monarchies allied to the West are rarely subject to media scrutiny or criticism, something infamously demonstrated on an obscene and frighteningly absurd level with Thomas Friedman's prior fawning and hagiographic interview with Saudi MbS published in the Times.
The NYT continues in its description of the Saudi coalition's frontline paid foreign fighters:
Most belong to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed. They were blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen — albeit in a more formal and structured campaign.
In interviews, the Times has learned that rates of child soldiers among the militias make up no small percentage.
And the Saudi and Emirati commanders are said to direct the military action "almost exclusively by remote control" from a safe distance:
Some families are so eager for the money that they bribe militia officers to let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In interviews, five fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent.
To keep a safe distance from the battle lines, their Saudi or Emirati overseers commanded the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat through radio headsets and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.
Again, this is a campaign that the United States has been an integral part of from day one.
It must be remembered that years of Saudi airstrikes on already impoverished Yemen that have already killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians,many thousands among those are children according to the UN, and displaced hundreds of thousands, have been enabled by both US intelligence and military hardware, including the US/UK blessing to impose military blockade on key ports which form humanitarian life-lines for the starving, disease-ridden and war weary population.
* * *
Below is the type of mainstream media coverage that Americans were subject to throughout the early years of the war.
At the time of the below 2016 CNN interview, Saudi Arabia with the help of its regional and Western allies — notably the U.S. and Britain — had been bombing Yemen for a year-and-a-half, and as the United Nations noted, the Saudi coalition had been responsible for the majority of the war's (at that point) 10,000 mostly civilian deaths. Some humanitarian organization estimates now put the total civilian death toll at over 70,000.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer on the Saudi slaughter in Yemen.— IN THE NOW (@IntheNow_tweet) April 27, 2018
How is this guy still on the air?! pic.twitter.com/f6Z9Q9gYCY
And here's the full CNN interview segment:
Wolf Blitzer's first thought was those poor defense contractors and the "need" for the Pentagon to expand its budget:
"...Because you know, there’s a lot of jobs at stake. Certainly if a lot of these defense contractors stop selling war planes, other sophisticated equipment to Saudi Arabia, there’s going to be a significant loss of jobs, of revenue here in the United States."