Newly released Pentagon documents confirm that the United States' role in the Saudi coalition bombing of Yemen has long been much deeper than previously acknowledged by defense officials. In fact they show that the repeated Pentagon line that the US is “not a participant in the civil war in Yemen nor are we supporting one side or the other,” as was stated just last month by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a flat lie to shield the public from the truth.
The new government documents, obtained from Air Forces Central Command via FOIA and published days ago by national security reporter Nick Turse reveal the US has been training the Saudi-UAE coalition pilots conducting the air war over Yemen, which has resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, as documented by the UN and other international monitoring organizations.
This even as the Pentagon attempted to appease Congressional critics last November by announcing it would cease aerial refueling of coalition aircraft conducting airstrikes in Yemen. It was further found out that due to "accounting errors" the fuel was being provided to the Saudis and Emirates free of charge, or rather it was being shouldered by the unknowing American taxpayer.
According to Turse's report on the files he unearthed, they reveal the following:
“Escorted 6 UAE F-16s to RED FLAG” — reads a December 2017 Air Force document referring to an advanced aerial combat training exercise held for U.S. and allied pilots — “assisted 150 airmen in challenging ex[ercise] to prepare for combat ops in Yemen.” The document goes on to detail additional support provided by the U.S. Air Force’s Air Warfare Center at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. “Unit fighter personnel advanced the UAE’s F-16 fighter pilot training program; 3 pilots flew 243 instructor sorties/323 hrs that created 4 new instructors & 29 combat wingmen who immediately deployed for combat operations in Yemen.”
The US has been an integral part of the Saudi coalition's war in Yemen since it began in 2015 through things like logistics, intelligence sharing and selection of targets, and aerial refueling, but this latest revelation now fully confirms US forces are actually playing a lead part in the whole operation, while providing a fig leaf of deniability by not putting its own pilots into combat, instead training UAE pilots.
But amazingly the Pentagon has stood firm in its denials even after the internal Air Force command documents came to light. A Central Command spokesperson told Yahoo News when asked to comment on the damning military files that it has not “conducted exercises with members of the [Saudi-led coalition] to prepare for combat operations in Yemen.”
And a separate CENTCOM official repeated the denial when asked for clarification in light the documents' contents: “As we said before in our statement, we do not conduct exercises with members of the [Saudi-led coalition] to prepare for combat operations in Yemen,” Lt. Col. Josh Jacques said.
US military planners have long seen the grinding war against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen as essentially a proxy war against Iran, which requires Washington to coordinate with its gulf Arab allies to thwart Tehran's actions in the theater. However, since the Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi the coalition's actions have come under greater scrutiny by both the media and public. One UK monitoring group said of the death toll resulting from coalition airstrikes: “We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018," with the total figure between 70,000 and 80,000 victims.
Despite this in recent months the White House and State Department have reaffirmed the US commitment to the Yemen war. In addition to "scorched earth" constant airstrikes, the impoverished country has suffered devastating famine, severe food shortage, and a cholera epidemic — all factors behind what the U.N. has dubbed "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." In comments late last year, a top State Department official quoted by Reuters said a US pullout from the Saudi coalition would send "a wrong message".