U.S. Involvement in Yemen War Crimes

Published by

Julian Santos


June 21, 2021

Inquiry-driven, this article reflects personal views, aiming to enrich problem-related discourse.

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A common topic within political discourse is deeming former President Barack Obama a war criminal. These comments are laced within slander against Democrats and presidential administrations- though largely are centered around the Obama administration as a whole. At the core of this is whether or not the United States has actually been contributing to war crimes, specifically those in Yemen?



The civil war that has taken place in Yemen has been nothing short of a humanitarian disaster.  According to UNICEF 24 Million Yemenis or more than 80 percent of the population are in dire need of food and water. More than 12 million children suffer from starvation weekly. 2 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from malnourishment. And the global pandemic has made Sanitation and healthcare services sparse. But the thing is, this did not happen from a cyclone or an earthquake or a natural disaster. This has been a man-made conflict. And it has not been only terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda that are contributing to the carnage in the country. It is big world superpowers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and to an extent the United States of America. But what has caused this? 

Since 2014 a major conflict broke out in Yemen. The Shiite Houthi insurgency was upset with the Sunni government in power at the time. Claiming the Shiite population has been discriminating against them for years, they took up arms and the fall of the capital Sana’a had come months later. This escalated into a major civil war with a coalition of Sunni countries such as the UAE and  Saudi Arabia backing the government and the Shiite power of Iran backing the Houthi rebels. It has turned into a full out proxy war in the middle east. But how is the crisis man-made?

Since the beginning of the war, Saudi and Emirati forces have been directly involved in the conflict by bombing Houthi-controlled areas throughout the country. The problem is their collateral damage and their purposeful targeting of strategic arteries to the country. A hospital in the city of Abs. A bridge in Sana’a. One of the country's largest seaports in Al-hudaydah. And a naval blockade meant to stop Houthi ships also blocks the food supply from the country. All of this military action has led to a massive crisis being there.

U.S. Involvement

As aforementioned, the Yemen crisis has been a part of a “cold war” in the middle east. And with a major world conflict comes U.S involvement. Since the end of World War II, the Americans and The Saudis have been in almost full support of each other, Militaristically and Economically. The United States of America is the largest Arms Exporter in the world and the Saudis happen to be the largest buyer of American arms. Saudi armed forces are commonly seen with technology from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Two giant American corporations. This tech was also seen on a heat-seeking bomb dropped on a school bus in Dayhan, Yemen on August 9th, 2018. 40 children were killed that day by an American made bomb. F-22 raptors have been conducting these attacks and the pilots flying them are wearing helmets made from Raytheon. This is just an alliance. So what is a war crime? 

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Law of armed conflict (LOAC) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) states that “Targeting civilians and civilian objects'' is a war crime. With this information, we can say that the Saudi coalition has been committing war crimes. But what goes for America? Nowhere in the ICC’s Law of Armed Conflict does selling weapons to a country committing war crimes is in itself a war crime. However, in a 2013 ICC decision it stated that in situations like the Yemen conflict, any country providing moral support or practical assistance to a country violating LOAC could be charged as an accomplice in war crimes.  In an attempt to mitigate investigations into the Obama administration’s actions in Yemen the department of defense released a “No strike list” to Saudi Arabia giving civilian locations to the Saudis of where not to strike. But this is eliminating moral support. What about practical support?

During the peak of the conflict, Saudi Arabia had asked D.C for refueling assistance. They accepted and Stratotankers were taking off from carriers in the Red Sea and air bases in Turkey and North Africa. During Saudi led bombings, the aircraft conducting strikes would meet American tankers over the Arabian Sea in international waters and would refuel the warplanes. This is a big deal because this puts American troops directly assisting a war crime. A mid-flight refuel allows strikes to be carried out for longer and to be much more lethal. However, in 2018 both D.C and Riyadh had decided to stop the mid-flight refuels from American tankers. This decision ended the practical assistance involvement the U.S had previously had. 

But this is not over. The ICC still has the power to hold a trial for the Obama administration for being complacent. Disregarding politics, the Yemeni crisis is ruining millions of lives and it is clear U.S involvement is only making it worse

To donate to the humanitarian crisis through UNICEF

Works cited 

Stewart, Phil. “U.S. Halting Refueling of Saudi-Led Coalition Aircraft in Yemen's War.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 9 Nov. 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-yemen-refueling-idUSKCN1NE2LJ. 


“Yemen: Coalition Bus Bombing Apparent War Crime.” Human Rights Watch, 28 Oct. 2020, www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/02/yemen-coalition-bus-bombing-apparent-war-crime. 

voxdotcom, Sam Ellis. “The US May Be Aiding War Crimes in Yemen.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Dec. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwwP3SiBIC8. 

“Yemen Crisis.” UNICEF, 10 Dec. 2020, www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis.

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Julian Santos

Hi! I’m Julian Santos and I’m a high school sophomore living in the Bay Area. I currently identify as a liberal and I have always had a deep passion for geography, politics, and geopolitical issues. I love discussing and writing politics and am very excited to be on board YIP!

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