President Biden delivered a foreign policy speech on Thursday and vowed to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen.
“We are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,” Biden said. Last week, the administration paused planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, although US officials framed the pause as a standard procedure for a new administration.
While Biden vowed to end “offensive” support, he promised to keep supporting the Saudis militarily in other ways. “At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty.”
The US often blames Iran for Houthi attacks in Saudi territory. But the reality is, these attacks wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for the over five-year US-backed Saudi siege on Yemen, where the coalition’s targeting of civilian infrastructure and the blockade on the country has caused widespread disease, and mass starvation.
Biden did mention the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and said USAID will work to ensure that aid is being delivered. He announced the appointment of Timothy Lenderking as the US special envoy to Yemen, a veteran diplomat who will work to end the fighting between the Saudis and the Houthis.
Biden said Lenderking will “work with the UN envoy and all parties of the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution.”
One thing Biden did not bring up is the designation of Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, one of the last moves from the Trump administration. The UN and international charities have warned that the designation will cause mass famine since it criminalizes doing business with the Houthis, who control territory where about 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives.
The Biden administration is allowing transactions with the Houthis until February 26th, but the UN warned the waiver is not good enough and is still calling for a full reversal of the terror designation.
Earlier on Thursday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters about Biden’s plan to end “offensive” support for the war in Yemen. He said it would not apply to the US’s war against al-Qaeda in Yemen, known as AQAP. “It does not extend to actions against AQAP,” he said. “It extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis.”
Washington’s war against al-Qaeda in Yemen was significantly escalated in the early years of the Trump administration. In recent years, the number of US drone strikes in Yemen has dropped, but the strikes still happen on occasion. According to the monitoring group Airwars, in 2020, the US officially declared three strikes in Yemen. Fifteen other incidents were reported as alleged US airstrikes, likely secret CIA operations.
Before March 2015, when the Obama administration decided to support the Saudi intervention in Yemen, the Houthis were an intelligence-sharing partner of the US in the fight against AQAP.