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US military to train Saudi pilots on American soil despite outrage over Yemen “war crimes”

There are numerous indications besides the federal procurement request that Mattis’ statements of caution to the Saudis were merely public theater aimed at reducing outrage over one of the Saudi-led coalition’s latest atrocities.

by Whitney Webb

Despite U.S. government efforts to publicly backtrack from its support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, federal procurement documents have shown that U.S. support for the coalition may instead soon deepen at a time when the coalition’s targeting of Yemeni civilians has attracted widespread attention and outrage.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis had called U.S. support for the coalition “not unconditional” and urged it to “do everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life” — after the coalition used a U.S.-made bomb to attack a school bus full of children, killing 40 children and 11 adult civilians. The attack, which the coalition defended as a “legitimate military operation,” occurred soon after the U.S State Department had voiced support for coalition bombings of Yemeni towns as “legitimate” and “justified.”

Though recent statements made by Mattis and others have sought to downplay U.S. involvement and support for the Saudi-led coalition, federal documents first reported on by TYT show that the U.S. Air Force is actively searching for private contractors to train 41 Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) personnel “in the U.S. at the contractor’s facility,” which will include training with the F-15 fighter jet currently used by the coalition in Yemen.

In addition, the solicitation was posted on August 23, just two weeks after the coalition’s bombing of the school bus, and has a September deadline, meaning that the training of Saudi pilots on U.S. soil could begin as soon as next month.

The request appears to be the first of its kind since the conflict in Yemen began, as U.S. support for the coalition has thus far been only regional in scope, with the U.S. military aiding the coalition by refueling jets and rendering logistical assistance, and the U.S. government approving billions in weapon sales. In addition, the U.S. does have an unspecified number of ground troops active in Yemen, some of whom are involved with “intelligence sharing” and interrogations at UAE-run “black-site” prisons.

Pentagon damage control

Despite the fact that Mattis recently warned that the U.S. would withhold military and intelligence support for the coalition if it doesn’t reduce civilian casualties in Yemen, there are plenty of other indications besides the federal procurement request that Mattis’ statements were merely public theater aimed at reducing outrage over one of the Saudi-led coalition’s latest atrocities.

For one thing, since June the U.S. has been intimately involved in “fine-tuning” the coalition’s strike list, which has since included residential homes, school buses and other civilian sites among its targets. Despite the documented targeting of civilians since the U.S. deepened its involvement in the conflict and openly began helping choose strike locations, the Pentagon only chose to voice concern after the school bus bombing generated international outrage.

Notably, the Pentagon did not make any “warnings” to the Saudi-led coalition after two airstrikes targeting fleeing civilians left 24 children dead. Furthermore, the U.S. government’s silence on the coalition’s de facto blockade of Yemen — which will bring an estimated 18.4 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation by year’s end and has caused 66,000 Yemeni children to die annually from preventable diseases — further illustrates that the U.S. military only feigns concern over civilian casualties when the specter of accountability — such as prosecuting U.S. officials for war crimes in the Yemen conflict or harsh criticism from Congress — rears its head.

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