Starved of food and medical supplies, Yemenis may resort desperate to measures, including signing up with Islamic State, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
The imminent starvation of a large segment of Yemen’s population is something the world has quite easily turned a blind eye to. But in a world that is actually a global village, the suffering of those from one of the poorest countries in the world will come back to bite us all.
The Saudi naval blockade of Yemen’s coast has denied the poorest of the poor food, fuel, and medical supplies. The sea blockade has stopped shipments to most of Yemen’s ports. There is only so long the population can hold out until they resort to desperate measures, which might just be signing up to Islamic State to receive a salary as a way out of starvation. Already this type of shift towards extremism is taking place, as al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) is flourishing in Yemen’s ungoverned areas.
The UN says that 20 million Yemenis are in urgent need of food, water and medical aid, and 2.5 million are internally displaced. Over 370 000 children are emaciated with severe malnutrition. Instead of the US mobilising urgent humanitarian aid and US rock stars holding massive concerts to fund such an effort, the US is supporting the Saudi coalition’s prosecution of the war at every level.
The US is providing intelligence and logistics support to the Saudi war effort and has been responsible for the aerial refuelling of attacking planes. American and British personnel have been operating in the command and control centres which give the orders for Saudi air strikes. Many of these strikes have been deemed by UN officials on the ground to be in violation of international law.
At least one third of the daily bombing runs have hit civilian sites, leaving hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure decimated. The specific targeting of hospitals and civilian infrastructure is part of a strategy by the Saudi campaign to undercut popular support for the rebels. Already four hospitals run by Doctors Without Borders have been bombed, forcing the medical group to withdraw from the north of the country.
When ordinary Yemenis rummage through the wreckage of their homes and neighbourhoods, the bomb fragments they come across are inscribed “made in the USA”. Even the remnants of cluster munitions which have been banned in a 2008 treaty show their US origins.
Not only are the bombs devastating Yemen provided by the US, but the attacking planes are guided by US supplied target data, and refuelled mid-air by US tanker planes. The only explanation for this US support of the Saudi war effort that comes to mind is that they are trying to appease Saudi Arabia following the Iran nuclear deal which infuriated their Saudi allies no end.
Yemenis are well aware that since the Saudi offensive began in March 2015, over 4 125 civilians have been killed, a quarter of them children, and over 7 200 have been injured. Even those Yemenis who don’t support the Houthi rebels are vociferously against the US.
The question now is whether as president Donald Trump will continue to allow the US to be the Saudis’ lackey, when there is little in the Yemeni campaign for Americans other than to spur the military-industrial complex. The Yemen campaign actually goes against the political objectives of the US in the Middle East. If Trump’s fundamental goal is to ensure the crushing defeat of Islamic State then he will have to re-think US misadventurism in places like Yemen, which is creating more potential jihadis than Trump’s security forces are likely to kill in Syria.
If Trump makes good on his promise to change the rules on torture to enable US forces to deploy vicious torture tactics on America’s “enemies”, then the war against terrorism will last a lifetime. Trump’s very idea of torturing the families of militants will breed future generations in the Middle East whose goal it is to destroy America.
While Trump’s plan is to defeat Islamic State and dislodge them from their declared Caliphate, what he hasn’t considered is where all the ideologically and militarily-trained jihadis who escape US bombs will go. If one were to offer a prognosis, they will blend into the national fabric of western countries as refugees, and from there launch perpetual attacks.
What the attacks this year in France showed was that jihadis no longer need to devise complicated terrorist attacks that involve bombs and weapons, they only have to drive a truck into a crowd of people to achieve the same result.
After this week’s wildfires in the holy land, which may or may not have been started on purpose, it may also become a tactic to simply set fire to the assets of the “infidels” in their own land.
We ignore the decimation of Yemen and its people at our own peril.
* Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor.
The Sunday Independent