Contrary to public statements, Obama admin fueled conflict in Yemen

The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict

Topics: WikiLeaks, War Room, Yemen,

Contrary to public statements, Obama admin fueled conflict in YemenSmoke rises after an air strike on rebel targets in the northwestern Yemeni province of Saada in this image taken on August 26, 2009 and released by the Houthi rebel group August 29, 2009. Yemen's president vowed late on Wednesday to rid provinces in the north of the country of rebels in a matter of weeks, ending recent heavy fighting which has seen hundreds killed and thousands displaced. Ali Abdullah Saleh said reinforcements would be sent to the mountainous Saada province, a rebel stronghold, adding he was confident government forces would defeat the rebels in Saada and Haraf Sufyan. REUTERS/Houthi Group/Handout (YEMEN POLITICS CONFLICT) QUALITY FROM SOURCE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS (Credit: © Ho New / Reuters)

(UPDATED) The Obama administration supplied emergency arms shipments to Saudi Arabia to aid the Saudis’ attacks on a Northern Yemeni rebel group late last year, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks — a revelation that is directly at odds with a public statement at the time by the top State Department spokesman, who flatly insisted that the U.S. had no military role in the conflict.

The December 2009 cable, released this week and flagged by Spencer Ackerman, describes fighting between the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebel group in northern Yemen, along the Saudi border. The Houthis are a Shia group who have been fighting with the central Yemeni government for years, with devastating effects for the civilian population. Beginning in October 2009, Saudi Arabia became engaged in several months’ fighting against the Houthis on both sides of the border.

The Dec. 30 State Department cable from Riyadh described the Saudi assault as the use of “massively disproportionate force in [the Saudis'] effort to repel and clear the lightly armed Houthi guerillas from the border area.” The cable then describes the secret American role in the conflict over the previous two months (emphasis ours):

During the campaign, the Saudi military turned to the U.S. for emergency provision of munitions, imagery and intelligence to assist them to operate with greater precision. The U.S. military responded with alacrity to the extent possible, primarily by flying in stocks of ammunition for small weapons and artillery. However, the great majority of Saudi requests remain bogged down in the FMS contacting process or in interagency reviews.

Now, what was the State Department saying publicly at the time about the Houthi conflict? Here is a Dec. 15 exchange on the topic between a reporter and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley:

QUESTION: On the conflict in Yemen, Houthis say that U.S. warplanes have launched airstrikes in northern Yemen. Is the U.S. involved in any military operations in Yemen?



MR. CROWLEY: But we – those kinds of reports keep cropping up. We do not have a military role in this conflict.

Most reasonable people would take emergency shipments of arms from the United States to the Saudis specifically for use in this conflict as constituting “a military role.” We’ve asked Crowley for comment and we will update this post if we hear back. (We took issue with the same statement yesterday because the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes at suspected terrorists in southern Yemen a couple days after Crowley’s blanket denial of any military operations in the country.) 

You Might Also Like

Here’s what Crowley said a few days later, on Dec. 22, 2009:

QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that Iran is supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen making border incursions into Saudi Arabia? And has the U.S. been asked for assistance by the Saudis to deal with these incursions?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, obviously, this is something that we want to see resolved as quickly as possible. We remain concerned about the loss of life that’s occurring on both sides. We continue to provide advice, training, and equipment to both Saudi Arabia and Yemen as part of our ongoing security cooperation. We have no direct role in what’s happening along the border. As to what is driving this, it’s hard for us to know, but we clearly will continue to work with both countries and try to have this come to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible.

While he mentions equipment going to the Saudis, Crowley also denied a “direct role” in the border conflict. That’s only true if you take “direct role” in the narrowest of senses. Reporters at that briefing would hardly have come away with the impression that the United States was shipping arms to the Saudis to continue their bombardment of the Houthi rebels.

And a few months earlier, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that the U.S. wanted a cease-fire in the conflict between the Houthis and Yemeni. From a Sept. 22, 2009 press conference

QUESTION: What’s the latest on the conflict in Yemen? How much is the U.S. concern – have concern about what’s going – continuous conflict? 

MR. KELLY: Right. Well, we’re deeply concerned about the ongoing conflict between the Yemeni Government and the al-Houthi opposition groups in northern Yemen. We call on both parties to declare an immediate ceasefire, to ensure the security and access of humanitarian aid workers in the region. And we call on all states in the region to facilitate the safe passage of emergency relief supplies to those in need.

Very soon after Kelly’s cease-fire statement, the Saudis got involved in the fighting, and the United States promptly supplied them with arms to continue the conflict. 

WikiLeaks critics like former State Department official Jamie Rubin have flatly dismissed “the idea that the United States was conducting some secret policy different than the one it was putting forward publicly.” But the Houthi episode seems to be a significant example of exactly that.

12/11/10 UPDATE: Crowley responds in an email to Salon: “[R]ecall the context for the original question. The Houthis accused us of bombing them. As I responded, we do not have a military role in this conflict. And we have no direct role in what is happening at the border. Those statements are true.”

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>