A bipartisan group of senators, including Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, Republican Mike Lee of Arizona, and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, has sent a letter to high-ranking officials in the Trump administration demanding answers about U.S. policy in Yemen following a U.S. military raid conducted in that country on January 28, 2017. The raid resulted in the death 23 Yemeni citizens: nine children, eight women, and seven men. The raid also resulted in the death of one U.S. soldier, Navy SEAL Ryan Owens. According to the New York Times, plans for the Yemen raid were presented to Donald Trump by Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, during a dinner meeting in which Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and Michael Flynn were also present.
According to NPR, Senator John McCain called the Yemen raid a “failure” due to the disastrous results. Donald Trump lashed out at Senator McCain on Twitter following McCain’s assessment.
Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He's been losing so....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
...long he doesn't know how to win anymore, just look at the mess our country is in - bogged down in conflict all over the place. Our hero..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
..Ryan died on a winning mission ( according to General Mattis), not a "failure." Time for the U.S. to get smart and start winning again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
The Trump administration contends that the mission was a success due to 14 al-Qaida militants having been killed. However, multiple problems that occurred during the raid have raised the concerns of McCain and other observers. Questions are also starting to be more widely raised regarding exactly what the United States is doing in Yemen to begin with, prompting Senators Rand Paul, Al Franken, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy to write their letter to the Trump administration.
“We write today with serious concerns regarding U.S. policy in Yemen and to urgently request a classified briefing regarding our actions and objectives there,” the letter begins. “The situation in Yemen remains complex, with an ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis — further complicated by U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign there — as well as a growing terrorist threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP.)”
According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia was added to a U.N. blacklist for bombing Yemeni children in 2016. The United States objected and Saudi Arabia was removed from the list. It is not completely clear what interests the United States has in facilitating Saudi Arabia’s military actions in Yemen. The letter by Al Franken, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy could be a first step in bringing to light exactly what’s going on.
According to The Intercept, the United States’s policy of aiding the Saudis is currently making a terrible situation in Yemen even worse.
“Impoverished to begin with, Yemen is two years into a civil war that has killed 10,000 people and displaced millions,” Alex Emmons wrote. “A U.S.-supplied bombing campaign has turned schools, hospitals, essential infrastructure, and ancient heritage sites into rubble. And a U.S.-backed blockade is preventing the trade of food and basic goods, starving a country that previously relied on imports for 90 percent of its food.”
The United Nations declared this week that Yemen is currently on the brink of famine, with more than two-thirds of Yemen’s population, approximately 19 million people, in need of some kind of humanitarian assistance. The U.N. reported that 7.3 million Yemenis do not even know where their next meal will come from.
The letter by Al Franken, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy comes at a pivotal moment. According to The Intercept, Trump’s Defense department is planning on declaring Yemen a formal battlefield in the war against terror. This would allow for an “intensified pace of operations, rather than one-off raids or drone strikes.”
Senators Al Franken, Rand Paul, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee are clearly concerned about U.S. policy in Yemen, as are many American citizens. Given the severe humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is crucial that the United States has a clear vision for its plans in the country, a vision that takes into account not just strategic military goals or Saudi Arabia’s interests in the country, but the well-being of the Yemeni people.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]