It would be 'beyond heartless' to end protected status for Yemenis, experts tell Trump administration
A group of 33 former national security officials and 60 advocacy groups sent letters to President Trump's administration urging for an extension of Yemen's temporary protected status, The Hill reported Tuesday.
Amid Yemen's ongoing civil war, which the United Nations says has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, protected status for Yemenis in the U.S. is set to expire. Protected status allows people to temporarily live and work in the U.S. while their home countries are affected by violence or natural disasters. Trump has ended TPS for citizens of Nepal, Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, and Nicaragua, and has until July 5 to decide whether to end it for Yemen as well.
National security experts like the former ambassador to the U.N., former deputy secretary of state, and former ambassadors to Yemen said that the Trump administration's foreign policy efforts would be damaged if the estimated 1,200 Yemenis in the U.S. were forced to return. The experts argued that increasing instability and humanitarian needs in Yemen could "bolster the propaganda efforts" of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which would undermine U.S. objectives in the region.
"It would be beyond heartless and cruel" to end TPS for Yemenis, the advocacy groups wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, pointing out that "our own government has defined [Yemen] as one of the most dangerous and dire places on the planet." The U.N. estimates that the civil war has killed about 6,385 civilians, and the organization has expressed fear that conditions could soon worsen for millions more.
Forces from the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen's civil war on Saturday captured the international airport in the rebel-held city of Hodeida. This is the largest battle of the war so far, as Hodeida is the only port controlled by the Houthi rebels.
The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations urged the Saudi coalition to cancel its assault on Hodeida, through which 70 percent of Yemen's food supplies arrive. The country is already wracked by cholera and on the brink of famine, so shuttering the port could lead to mass civilian starvation. Already millions of Yemenis are at risk of starving to death, and more than 100 Yemeni children die daily from starvation and preventable diseases.
Yemen imports 90 percent of its food supply, so the Saudi blockade — cast as an attempt to keep weapons away from Houthi fighters — has had deadly results. "We didn't have any food, or drink or anything, not even water," a Yemeni named Aly Omar, who lives near the captured airport, told Reuters. "I call on the United Nations and the Red Cross to open a way for us to get out of the situation we're in. Our kids, women, and elderly are stuck."
The United Nations has drafted a peace plan for Yemen, proposing to create an inclusive transitional government and calling for an immediate ceasefire, Reuters reports.
The civil war in Yemen began in 2015, pitting the Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-aligned Houthis. The Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and under the peace plan draft, if they give up their ballistic missiles, the Saudi coalition will end its regular bombings of Houthi targets.
The peace plan, drafted by U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, could still be modified, Reuters says. Griffiths is expected to present a "framework for negotiations" by mid-June. The U.N. estimates that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It's also a humanitarian crisis, with people starving to death and going without medicine and basic necessities. Catherine Garcia
At least 20 people were killed when an airstrike hit a wedding party in northern Yemen, with the bride among the dead. The Monday airstrike in Hajja province was launched by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels.
Health officials told The Associated Press most of the dead were women and children who were standing under a tent. The groom and 44 others — including 33 kids — were wounded, with many suffering from shrapnel wounds or severed limbs.
This was the third airstrike to hit Yemeni civilians since Saturday, when a coalition airstrike killed 20 people on a bus in the western part of the country. Another airstrike that hit a house in Hajja on Sunday night left a family of five dead. The independent monitor Yemen Data Project estimates that of the 16,847 airstrikes to hit Yemen since the fighting started three years ago, a third of those strikes have hit civilian targets. Thousands of Yemenis have been killed in the war, which shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Catherine Garcia
During one day this week, 68 Yemeni civilians, including at least eight children and 14 members of the same family, were killed when a Saudi Arabia-led coalition conducted two air strikes in the country, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said Thursday.
The war in Yemen is "absurd" and "futile," McGoldrick said, and the only way it can end is through negotiations, not fighting. The first air strike killed 54 people and wounded 32 more inside a crowded market in Taez province, and the second killed 14 members of a family in Hodeidah province. Over 10 days earlier this month, "escalated and indiscriminate attacks throughout Yemen" killed 41 civilians and wounded 43.
Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have control of the capital Sana'a. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition against the Houthis, and by extension Iranian aggression, and increased its air strikes this month after insurgents fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Everyone involved shows a "complete disregard for human life," McGoldrick said, and civilians are "being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides." It's been estimated the war has left at least 10,000 people dead, and there are eight million civilians without enough food and one million with cholera. Catherine Garcia
U.S. Central Command in Tampa announced Wednesday that in 2017, U.S. ground troops conducted "multiple ground operations and more than 120 airstrikes" in Yemen.
U.S. forces are trying to "disrupt the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training, and base of operations to export terror worldwide," CENTCOM said. Yemen is being devastated by a war between the government and Houthi rebels, and the Defense Department said that over the past year, the Islamic State has doubled in size in Yemen. That doesn't surprise experts, as ISIS has lost significant territory in Iraq and Syria, and is looking for a safe haven amid the chaos.
Under the Trump administration, the Defense Department has not been giving regular updates on U.S. troop activity in Yemen, NBC News reports, and the extent of counterterrorism operations in the country wasn't clear before Wednesday. The Pentagon also said that in November, three senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in Yemen, and in October, 50 ISIS Yemen militants were killed at two training camps. Catherine Garcia
On Wednesday, President Trump issued a rare public rebuke to Saudi Arabia, saying in a statement he has directed U.S. officials "to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it. This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately." Saudi Arabia, which has led a coalition of Arab states fighting against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen since March 2015, started blocking Yemeni ports last month, exacerbating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The U.S. provides support for the Saudi-led airstrikes.
Trump has touted his warm relations with Saudi Arabia, but U.S. officials are concerned with some parts of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's foreign policy. Saudi Arabia was unusually public in its criticism of Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday, but a White House official told Reuters that Trump's statement, issued shortly after his Jerusalem announcement, was not retaliation. "It has to do with the fact that there is a serious humanitarian issue in Yemen and the Saudis should and can do more," the official said.
At least 14,000 people have been wounded or killed since the Saudi bombing campaign began, 8 million people are on the brink of famine, and nearly a million Yemenis have contracted cholera. "President Trump's public call for Saudi Arabia to end the blockade is long overdue but hugely important," said Oxfam America's Scott Paul, adding that "U.S. support has helped create Yemen's horrific crisis." Peter Weber
An estimated 130 children or more die every day in Yemen from starvation or disease, the international aid group Save the Children reported late Wednesday. By the end of the year, an estimated 50,000 children will have died from the "preventable" causes, Save the Children's Yemen director, Tamer Kirolos, told The Independent.
That number means "more than a hundred mothers [are] grieving for the death of a child, day after day," Kirolos added.
The shocking toll stems in part from the war-torn country's massive cholera outbreak, the largest in modern history. An estimated 600,000 people or more have been infected by the disease since April.
An estimated 385,000 children in Yemen are additionally suffering from severe acute malnutrition, The Telegraph reports. A blockade on Yemen's ports by Saudi Arabia made food in the famine-struck nation even scarcer, and Save the Children warns that the numbers reported Wednesday could already be outdated since they were gathered before Saudi Arabia's maneuver. The kingdom said Monday it would ease the blockade after extreme international pressure.
America's role in allowing the Saudi Arabian blockade, though, is "precisely the kind of thing that fuels furious anti-American hatred and terrorism," Ryan Cooper writes at The Week. Read more here. Jeva Lange