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The Indiscriminate Bombing of Yemen and the Failure of Western Media

Coverage of the war on Yemen is rare enough that it magnifies the importance of mistakes and omissions in the few articles that do reach Western audiences.
yemen airstrikes sa'ada

Last month, The Wall Street Journal published a credulous report that took Saudi “aid” efforts in Yemen at face value. Just before Mohammed bin Salman comes to the U.S., they have published another report that tries to put the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign in the most positive light possible:

The issue is expected to shadow this week’s Washington visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister and a reformer who has established strong ties with the Trump White House. U.S. officials sometimes describe the crown prince as the chief architect of a war known as Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan.

In advance of his high-profile visit, Saudi Arabia provided The Wall Street Journal with exclusive access to its main military command centers for the Yemen war and top generals overseeing the campaign.

Obtaining that exclusive access to Saudi command centers could be potentially valuable, but unfortunately it seems to have come at expense of properly reporting on the effects of the coalition bombing campaign. The article leaves out many of the most important facts about the bombing campaign, and in so doing presents a very lopsided account of what the coalition has been doing to Yemen over the last three years. Coverage of the war on Yemen is rare enough that it magnifies the importance of mistakes and omissions in the few articles that do reach Western audiences. When a major American newspaper publishes a report that fails to include any Yemeni perspective of a bombing campaign carried out against their country, that makes it easier for Americans to ignore the consequences of the war that their government enables and it makes it very easy for supporters of that war to argue for continued U.S. backing. When Western media outlets obscure the true nature of the coalition bombing campaign, they are misleading their audiences and failing to tell the whole story.

For starters, the report fails to mention that the coalition has deliberately and systematically targeted the country’s economic infrastructure and food production. Iona Craig reported on this last year:

Research on the pattern of bombing, carried out by emeritus professor Martha Mundy at the London School of Economics, concluded that in the first 17 months of the Saudi-led bombing campaign there was “strong evidence that coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution” in areas controlled by the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh was killed by Houthi forces in Sana’a last week, days after declaring he had switched allegiances.

Data on coalition airstrikes collected by the Yemen Data Project have recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites from March 2015 to the end of September 2017.

Combined with the coalition blockade, the targeting of Yemen’s food production has worsened the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The deliberate targeting of food production and distribution in Yemen confirms that the coalition is not even trying to avoid hitting civilian targets in many instances. The repeated targeting of medical facilities in Yemen is also no accident. Coalition bombing of water and sewage treatment plants has contributed to the spread of preventable diseases and helped to create the worst cholera epidemic of modern times. Alia Allana wrote about coalition attacks on a water treatment plant in an op-ed last year:

The workers left the lights on at the plant hoping the coalition pilots would read it as a sign that the plant wasn’t a military target. “Little did we know that all of Yemen was a military target,” said an engineer at the plant [bold mine-DL], who asked to remain anonymous for his safety. On another night, the coalition bombed a crane at the plant.

Another significant omission from the article is that Saudi-led coalition bombing has hit civilian targets more than 30% of the time, and that may be a conservative estimate. The coalition has bombed many schools, houses, weddings, funerals, medical facilities, and factories since 2015, and their campaign has targeted critical infrastructure needed to transport food and medicine to the most populated areas of the country. The Saudis and their allies are credibly accused of committing numerous war crimes in Yemen with their indiscriminate bombing campaign, but in another telling omission those words never appear once in this report.

Perhaps the most glaring omission is the failure to mention what the coalition has done to Saada in northern Yemen. The coalition illegally declared the entire area a military target and has made no effort to avoid hitting civilian structures there. As far as the coalition is concerned, everything in Saada can be targeted with impunity. The relentless bombing of Saada can’t be reconciled with coalition claims that it is seeking to minimize civilian casualties, and it makes a mockery of the idea that U.S. military assistance makes civilian casualties less likely. The coalition will always assert that it is not showing blatant disregard for the lives of civilians in Yemen, but everything they have done for the last three years proves otherwise.



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