President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country. “This war has to end,” Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” Biden pledged an end to “relevant” US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
However, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was quick to add that an end to US support for the Saudi war against the Houthi rebels will not affect US operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
AQAP leader Khalid Batarfi was reportedly apprehended by Yemeni government security forces Feb. 5 in al-Mahrah governorate, and handed over to Saudi Arabia. His second in command, Saad bin Atef al-Awlaqi, reportedly lost his life during an operation in Ghayda City, al-Mahrah, in October. Born in Riyadh, Batarfi became leader of AQAP in early 2020, after his predecessor Qassim al-Rimi was killed by a US air-strike.
Nonetheless, following Biden’s move, the United Kingdom is under greater pressure to end its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Sarah Waldron of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said: “The US government is the biggest arms dealer in the world, so this could be an important step towards ending this terrible war.”
Italy has also halted arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in a move described as “historic” by the Italian Peace & Disarmament Network.
Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, a co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in that year’s Arab Spring uprising, urged Biden to remain involved in peace efforts. “Deeper US engagement—and a refusal to side with dictators who have chosen bloodshed over democratic change—is vital so that the Yemeni people can return to the project of democracy,” Karman said in a statement.
Last month, Karman called on Biden to put “maximum pressure” the Houthi rebels, who have controlled the capital Sanaa since 2014, to “retreat from their coup,” while also stressing: “There is no problem in Yemen or Saudi Arabia right now that will be solved with more bombs.” A former member of the Saudi-backed Islah Party, Karman was suspended in 2018 over her criticism of the war effort. (Middle East Online, The Hill, Middle East Eye, MEE, MEE, Middle East Monitor)