Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.
The weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America’s sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.
There were credible reports late last year that the Saudis and Emiratis had been violating their agreements with the U.S. by transferring weapons to militias in Yemen. Mohamed Abo-Elgheit and the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalists (Arij) were the first to cover this story in a documentary released in 2018. The CNN article (co-authored by Abo-Elgheit) confirms and expands on their reports:
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its main partner in the war, have used the US-manufactured weapons as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape, according to local commanders on the ground and analysts who spoke to CNN.
By handing off this military equipment to third parties, the Saudi-led coalition is breaking the terms of its arms sales with the US, according to the Department of Defense. After CNN presented its findings, a US defense official confirmed there was an ongoing investigation into the issue.
The coalition’s diversion of weapons to other parties is obnoxious, but it is just the latest reminder that the U.S. shouldn’t be providing the Saudis and Emiratis with any weapons for their war on Yemen. We know that they and their proxies use these weapons to commit war crimes and heinous abuses of the civilian population. We also know that they can’t be trusted to keep these weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
When our government floods a war zone with weapons, it is more or less inevitable that those weapons will end up in the hands of armed groups that absolutely shouldn’t have them. This is what happened in Syria, and it is what usually happens when we throw weapons at an ongoing, multi-sided conflict. That is why the U.S. shouldn’t be so quick to provide clients and proxies with weapons that they are certain to use for their own purposes. In this case, some weapons have ended up in the hands of both Al Qaeda members and the Houthis. This latest outrage comes on top of the arming and financing that the Saudi coalition and its proxies have been providing to Al Qaeda members in Yemen and the alliance of convenience that has existed between the coalition and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) since the war began. U.S. weapons don’t just happen to make their way into the hands of terrorists. Our clients provide the terrorists with these weapons because they and our government are all on the same side in an indefensible war that our government has supported for close to four years.
These latest reports are just the most recent evidence that the Saudis and Emiratis are not our allies and cannot be trusted with the weapons and support that our government has eagerly provided them. It is one more reason why the U.S. must end all involvement in the war on Yemen, cease all arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE, and downgrade our relations with these reckless and unreliable clients.