U.S. Defense Secretary Dispatches Three-Star General To Investigate Saudi Airstrike
On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis directed Lt. General Michael X. Garrett of the U.S. Army Central Coalition Forces Land Component Command to look into last week’s deadly Saudi airstrike that killed 51 people in rebel-held northern Yemen.
Fifty-six children were also among the 79 people wounded in the Thursday attack on Sa’ada province, a rebel stronghold that borders Saudi Arabia.
Since 2015, the US has provided targeted intelligence to the Saudi coalition bombing campaign and has assisted with refueling coalition bombers.
Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said the general discussed the investigative processes and prevention of civilian casualties with the Saudis and the need for a timely and transparent investigation into the incident. “He pressed the Saudis to devote the resources and oversight required to do a thorough and complete investigation and release the results to the public.”
Rebarich emphasized Mattis never said the general would be conducting an investigation, but urging the Saudis “to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate this tragic incident.”
Mattis’ statement mirrored what State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said last week when she called for the coalition to conduct “a thorough and transparent investigation.”
“We will help to prevent the killing of innocent people, we’re very concerned about the humanitarian situation,” Mattis said, adding, “Wars are always tragic, but we’ve got to find a way to protect innocent in the midst of this one.”
“U.S. military support to our partners mitigates noncombatant casualties, by improving coalition processes and procedures, especially regarding compliance with the law of armed conflict and best practices for reducing the risk of civilian casualties,” she said.
Pentagon reports state that it is unclear if the US played a part in Thursday bombing by pumping gas into a coalition warplane, or if the coalition used US-made weapons to carry out the attack, however, Rebarich’s statement said that the U.S. Central Command was not involved in the airstrike in Saada.
“We don’t have a lot of people on the ground. We may never know if the ammunition was one that the US sold to them,” said Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a spokesperson for US Central Command.
Jacques said it was unclear if the US was involved in refueling planes for the attack because the military doesn’t track the coalition planes and that the US military is also not in the room when the Saudi-led coalition decides to conduct a strike.
Condemning the attack, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres called for “an independent and prompt investigation” into the Saudi-led coalition air strike.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, Colonel Turki AlMalki, the official spokesman of the “Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen”, said the targeting in Sa’dah was a legitimate military action, conducted in conformity with the International Humanitarian Law and its customary rules, to target the militants responsible for planning and targeting civilians.
The on-going conflict began in 2104, when the Houthis, Shia rebels from the north, overtook the nation’s capital and overthrew the Saudi-backed ruler, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been living in exile in Riyadh.