U.S. Escalates Involvement in Yemen
The missile attacks on a U.S. navy ship might serve the role the Gulf of Tonkin incident did in providing justification for U.S. war in Vietnam.
October 14, 2016—Sharmini Peries: Welcome back to The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The U.S. Navy attacked three Yemeni radar installations on Wednesday night. This was the first time that the U.S. became directly involved in striking Yemeni Houthis since the war began. Now, according to the UN there have been about 10,000 Yemenis killed and this war has created a humanitarian crisis by displacing 2.5 million people. The Yemeni radar installations were completely destroyed and it is, at this point, unclear whether there are any civilian casualties. Now, President Obama had authorized the strike in response to two missiles that had been fired at two of the U.S. battle ships in the strait between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Neither one of those missiles caused any damage to the U.S. warships but the U.S. nevertheless retaliated by taking out the radar installations.
Now joining us from London to take a closer look at the incident is Zenab Ahmed. Zenab is an associate editor of Souciant.com and also a Ph.D. student at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London. Thanks so much for joining us, Zenab.
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: Nice to be here.
Sharmini Peries: Bilal, just a few days ago before these incidences related to the radar installations and the attacks on the ships—there was international condemnation and outrage for the Saudi airstrikes that hit a funeral procession in the country’s capital of Sana’a killing about 140 mourners and wounding several hundred, up to 600 people who were attending the funeral. But no one actually talks about why this funeral procession was attacked so let’s begin there. Explain to us why the Saudis attacked the funeral.
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: So you’re referring to a coalition airstrike on a funeral that happened on October the 8th in Sana’a. That funeral was bombed as part of a larger operation against what were supposed to be military targets—at least claimed to be military targets—of course, the fact that it was clearly a funeral and the fact that it was such a large crowd at the funeral means that this explanation is a little suspect. The attack killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 500 other people. Many of whom were children. There were military personnel and civilian officials, involved with the war effort, at the ceremony but it’s pretty clear that the Saudi Air Force knew that there were several hundred civilians there. Which does raise serious questions about humanitarian rights, humanitarian law and about war crimes when it comes to the air strikes the coalition’s taking out against the country.
Sharmini Peries: Now, this incident with the U.S. attacking the radar installations is the first time that the U.S. has been directly involved. Until now, one could say that it was Saudi-led, U.S.-backed, as the U.S. provided so-called technical support and refueling missions and so forth. At least that is what we are being told officially. Now, this changes the intensity and it escalates the war. What consequences will this action have?
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: It looks like what’s going to happen is what is actually contained in the Houthi denials of their part of this altercation. What the Houthis are saying is that it was an excuse in order to escalate American involvement in the country. Which has, so far, like you said, been mainly in a supportive role to reinforce Saudi operations. It remains to be seen whether or not the Houthis are correct when they say that they weren’t involved in the strikes against the United States Navy. However, they’re not wrong when they note that this is the excuse that the United States needs in order to become more directly involved in the conflict. That’s something that has been explored by the Pentagon for quite some time. But something like this needed to happen to offer the public justification for launching more intense operations in the country. And more intense operations that directly targeted Houthis as well.
Its worth knowing, again, that the United States has been involved in bombing large sections of Yemen when it comes to other forces involved in the conflict, such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the limited factions of Islamic State that do exist in the country. But those are mainly in the southern regions and those have mainly occurred through drone strikes. Now, you’re looking at much wider involvement in the northern ends of the country where the Houthis are involved. That’s where the Saudi coalition has taken the lead.
Sharmini Peries: Now, earlier this year the UN Security Council issued a report saying that the War in Yemen is one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world today—up to 80 percent of the Yemenis are said to have been in need of some sort of international aid because of the displacement the war has caused them. What are the prospects of now achieving any cease-fire or eventually peace in this conflict?
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: I don’t think you’re going to be able to look at a cease-fire that leaves Yemen as one country. That’s the thing. I think you’re looking at a cease-fire that could easily turn Yemen into two or three different countries with various spheres of ownership and a larger foreign influence involved. I don’t think you’re going to be able to see a durable peace settlement in the country, any time soon, though. Something else worth remembering is that peace settlements require quite a bit of international pressure, in addition to domestic pressure. And the international pressure for a comprehensive peace settlement in Yemen doesn’t exist in the same degree as it does in other countries such as Libya or Syria. And it still hasn’t worked in Libya or Syria. So the idea that a peace settlement is on the way in Yemen is a bit fanciful.
Sharmini Peries: Zenab, this sounds like another error. Give us a sense of what this means in terms of historical involvement of the U.S. in other wars.
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: Well it does actually sound very similar to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident—in that it involves a naval cruiser that was stationed in an enemy or directly adjacent to enemy waters that then reports of it being attacked and then that attack becomes the justification for further escalation and for direct American involvement in that conflict. So the Gulf of Tonkin led to the direct American involvement in the Vietnam War. And this could lead to direct American involvement in the Yemeni Civil War. But of course its worth noting that later on, decades later—when you look at declassified military documents and declassified intelligence documents—it turns out that many of the claims about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident were actually either fabricated or willfully distorted. The reason they were done that way was because the United States wanted to get involved and because the Pentagon was pressuring to get involved and because the Johnson Administration wanted to get involved and they just needed the reason to do it. When it comes to Yemen, especially given the humanitarian problems that are resulting from this war and the strain that its putting on Saudi Arabia in addition to the American allies in the Persian Gulf and the fact that the United States needs to get other conflicts in check as well, the Americans probably do want to simply go in and finish the job or have some indication that they can do that if the White House and the Pentagon, or the U.S. Navy or whoever, is just allowed to enter the country more directly.
Sharmini Peries: Zenab, thank you so much for joining us today.
Bilal Zenab Ahmed: No problem.
Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
—The Real News Network, October 14, 2016