WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has certified to Congress that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are taking active steps to protect civilians, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and end the war in Yemen.
The determination announced Wednesday meets a congressional deadline set by a bipartisan group of members concerned about the U.S. military’s role in the controversial war, and will allow the U.S. to continue to refuel aircraft used by the Saudi coalition in the war.
Last month, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a school bus resulting in the deaths of 40 Yemeni children. The airstrike was the latest undertaken by the Saudi-led coalition over the three-year-long war resulting in civilian deaths: A coalition strike on a funeral hall in 2016 led to the deaths of over 150 Yemini civilians and the injury of hundreds more, and a similar attack in April of this year killed over 30 civilians at a wedding party.
Following an internal investigation, the coalition said the airstrike on the school bus had been a legitimate one due to intelligence showing Houthi rebels on board, but admitted it was undertaken at the wrong time and place.
"We fully accept the findings. We launched the airstrike at a wrong time and made mistakes in following crossfire rules,” said Turki Al-Maliki, a spokesman for the coalition forces. “We will hold all those responsible for the mistakes accountable in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations."
The Trump administration supported the results of the investigation.
A United Nations report released last month found that both the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels they are fighting may have conducted actions amounting to war crimes, but it is the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that have caused the most civilian casualties.
“This is ridiculous. There is no indication that the coalition has been really trying to improve things. Citizens continue to be taking the brunt of the attacks, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, schools, continue to be hit,” United Nations Director of Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, told NBC News of the U.S. certification.
Human Rights Watch says it has identified the remnants of U.S.-made munitions in more than two dozen coalition attacks in Yemen, including the recent attacks on the school bus and wedding party.
“The possibility that U.S. munitions might have been used in the strikes has only heightened the sense of urgency to end these attacks on civilians,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post ahead of the certification. “We believe the United States’ national security interests and our humanitarian principles demand that we use our leverage to press all parties to end the civil war, protect civilians, and provide full and unfettered humanitarian access.”