The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has urged the Saudi-led coalition to stop airstrikes in heavily populated Yemen, shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said a that long-lasting ceasefire is the only possible solution.
“Time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” declared the top diplomat of the country that supplies the coalition with the bulk of its weapons, as well as intelligence and reconnaissance assistance.
Just hours earlier – while noting that American aircraft continue to provide aerial refueling and intelligence to Saudi jets attacking Yemeni targets – the Pentagon chief also demanded that the warring parties work towards a long-lasting peace. “We want to see everybody around a peace table based on ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on ceasing dropping bombs,” Mattis said at the Institute of Peace (USIP).
Some US lawmakers have long called on US leadership to halt support for the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombing Yemen since March of 2015, causing thousands of civilian deaths. The calls to cut the sales of weapons to the Gulf Kingdom, however, really intensified only in wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Washington Post columnist killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
While Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to cancel the record $110 billion arms sales contract he signed with the Saudis last year, some US lawmakers paradoxically considered winding down US support for the war in Yemen as a way to punish Riyadh for the Khashoggi murder. Mattis, however, emphasized Tuesday that he views the journalist’s death and the conflict in Yemen as totally separate issues.
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“We’ve got to move toward a peace effort here and we can’t say we’re going to be doing this sometime in the future. We need to be doing this in the next 30 days,” he said.
Tuesday’s statements by top US leadership signals a drastic shift from a mute White House approach to the three-year-old conflict, which has claimed over 10,000 lives and plunged Yemen into humanitarian disaster.
The Arab coalition has, since 2015, been waging a brutal military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels, in an attempt to restore exiled president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. Three years of Saudi-led bombardment and a blockade of Yemen has led to a catastrophic situation in the country, with 22 million people, or 80 percent of the population, in dire need of humanitarian aid. Throughout the entire course of the conflict, Riyadh and its allies have repeatedly been accused by NGOs of indiscriminate bombings of civilians and infrastructure in the country, using mainly Western-supplied weapons.