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U.S. Refueling of Saudi Coalition Planes Leads to More Civilian Casualties

Secretary Mattis has offered a new ludicrous defense of U.S. refueling of Saudi-led coalition planes:

Mattis said, “When you’re a pilot in the air and you’ve got bombs on your wing and you’ve got somebody calling on you to drop and you’re watching your fuel gauge go,” US refueling provides pilots reassurance that “there’s no need for a rash or hasty decision there.”

U.S. refueling of coalition planes has not made them more careful or reluctant to drop bombs on the wrong targets. The coalition illegally treats all of Saada and its vicinity as a military target, so there is not even a pretense of trying to avoid civilian casualties in attacks in that part of the country. The coalition bombing campaign overall hits civilian targets with remarkable frequency that makes a mockery of the idea that they are trying to limit the harm done to noncombatants. The latest findings from the Yemen Data Project show that coalition strikes hit civilian targets at least 30% of the time, and that rate has remained steady throughout the conflict:

The frequency of strikes on civilian targets is not the result of haste. It is the result of a blatant disregard for civilian life. We can see this because we know that the coalition is engaged in systematic, deliberate attacks on Yemeni food production and distribution and the country’s infrastructure. The Yemen Data Project published these figures earlier this week:

The coalition hasn’t bombed over 400 farms because they were worried about running out of fuel. They haven’t destroyed water treatment facilities and electric plants because they were in a rush. They did it because they wanted to destroy as much of Yemen’s infrastructure and food production as possible as part of their larger effort to starve the country into submission. U.S. refueling not only makes the U.S. a party to the conflict and proves that U.S. forces have been introduced into hostilities without authorization, but it makes the coalition bombing campaign possible and it makes it more destructive than it would otherwise be.

U.S. refueling just gives coalition planes more time in the air to carry out more attacks. When at least 30% of those attacks are on civilian targets, it guarantees that more civilians will die. The evidence shows that U.S. support isn’t making the coalition war effort safer for civilians, and it can’t so long as the coalition is deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and food production. By enabling that war effort and allowing their planes to remain in the air longer, the U.S. is helping the Saudis and their allies kill more innocent Yemenis than they possibly could on their own. Mattis’ justification for U.S. support for the coalition war effort makes no sense. It is wrong to continue providing support that we know will cause more civilian casualties, and that is one reason why the Senate should have voted to end U.S. involvement in the war last week.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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