May 8, 2018

IntelBrief: U.S. Troops Directly Involved in Yemen Conflict 

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be a munitions storage, in Yemen's capital, Sanaa  (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
  • A May 3 New York Times article revealed that U.S. Green Berets have been directly involved in supporting Saudi Arabia in its war with Yemen.
  • This comes despite testimony by General Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, that ‘we’re not parties to this conflict.’
  • Presence of the Green Berets indicates a substantial escalation of the acknowledged role for the U.S. in the conflict, as well as a direct contradiction of the public testimony of Pentagon leaders to Congress.
  • The situation in Yemen is now the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, as U.S. culpability in the conflict only grows.


It was recently reported that the U.S. is more deeply involved in the war in Yemen than the government has previously acknowledged.According to a May 3 report in the New York Times, approximately 12 U.S. Green Berets were positioned along the Saudi-Yemeni border to help locate and destroy Houthi rebel missile sites inside Yemen. There is no information that U.S. personnel have crossed into Yemen. However, their operations along the border are a substantial escalation of the acknowledged role for the U.S., as well as a direct contradiction of the public testimony of Pentagon leaders to Congress.

Amid growing but still muted Congressional concern over the American culpability in Yemen, the U.S. has continued to describe its support to Saudi Arabia as strictly non-combat assistance. But support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal air campaign is—paradoxically—framed as humanitarian in nature, in that the U.S. is helping limit civilian deaths by helping the Saudis improve their bombing tactics and targeting. Pentagon officials have consistently described the U.S. as helping to improve the accuracy of air strikes and offer vital logistical support. During his March 13 testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, General Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, stated flatly that ‘we’re not parties to this conflict.’ The presence of U.S. Green Berets on the border with Yemen is just the latest indication that the U.S., despite its statements to the contrary—and the very tenuous legal authorization for support to the Saudi coalition—is a direct party in the Yemeni conflict.

In a March 2018 letter to Senator McConnell, Defense Secretary Mattis also stressed that any ‘new restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis.’ It appears for now that there is insufficient Congressional pressure to enact new restrictions; indeed, the U.S. is increasing its already massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia. During the Obama administration, the U.S. sold $155 billion in arms to Riyadh. In 2017 alone, the U.S. sold approximately $610 million in weapons and munitions to Riyadh.

The presence of U.S. ground forces conducting operations along the border with the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels raises both the prospect of inevitable mission creep and the U.S. getting drawn further into the Yemeni quagmire. It also highlights that there is essentially no legal justification for such operations, as they have nothing to do with counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda, as stated in the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the U.S. has used to justify and legally authorize military campaigns in Afghanistan, Syria, and now Yemen. Meanwhile, the situation inYemen continues to worsen as U.S. involvement and culpability deepens.


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