Civilian death toll in Yemen mounting despite US assurances
CAIRO — Airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen are on a pace to kill more civilians than last year, according to a database tracking violence in the country, despite the United States’ repeated claims that the coalition is taking precautions to prevent such bloodshed.
The database gives an indication of the scope of the disaster wreaked in Yemen by nearly four years of civil war. At least 57,538 people — civilians and combatants — have been killed since the beginning of 2016, according to the data assembled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED.
That doesn’t include the first nine months of the war, in 2015, which the group is still analyzing. Those data are likely to raise the figure to 70,000 or 80,000, ACLED’s Yemen researcher Andrea Carboni told The Associated Press. The organization’s count is considered by many international agencies to be one of the most credible, although all caution it is likely an underestimate because of the difficulties in tracking deaths.
The numbers don’t include those who have died in the humanitarian disaster caused by the war, particularly starvation. Though there are no firm figures, the aid group Save the Children estimated hunger may have killed 50,000 children in 2017. That was based on a calculation that around 30 percent of severely malnourished children who didn’t receive proper treatment likely died.
Renewed uproar over the destruction has put Washington in a corner. The U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, backing the fight to stop Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who Washington and the coalition consider a proxy for Iran.
That along with tensions over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul may be key factors why Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Oct. 30 made their biggest push yet for an end to the war, calling for a ceasefire within 30 days and resumed negotiations.
Only a month earlier, Pompeo gave a powerful show of support to the coalition by certifying to Congress that Saudi Arabia and its allies were taking measures to prevent civilian casualties. Certification was a required step in continuing U.S. aid, which includes providing intelligence used in targeting and mid-air refueling for coalition planes.
But deaths from the coalition campaign show no sign of slowing.
Coalition airstrikes and shelling killed at least 4,489 civilians since the beginning of 2016 — nearly three-quarters of all known civilian deaths, according to ACLED’s figures.
As of Nov. 3, at least 1,254 civilians were killed by the coalition this year, a rate of four a day. In comparison, 1,386 civilians died in strikes the previous year, or 3.79 a day.
Asked about the finding, the U.S. State Department said in an emailed reply, “Throughout this conflict, the United States has urged all parties to abide by the Law of Armed Conflict, work to prevent harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure, and thoroughly investigate and ensure accountability for any violations.”
Bloodshed has surged from fierce fighting at the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, which coalition forces have been trying to retake from the Houthis since June. Civilians have been killed in airstrikes as well as by Houthi shelling and land mines.