UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 8 warned that the use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition against neighborhoods in Yemen may amount to a war crime. Cluster bombs spread bomblets over a wide area, many of which do not immediately explode, allowing the bomblets to kill or maim civilians long after a conflict ends. They were prohibited by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions treaty (PDF) adopted by 116 countries, not including Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the US. Of particular concern, the coalition has utilized indiscriminate bombing on several civilian areas in the city of Sanaa, including a wedding hall, chamber of commerce and a center for the blind. In a field visit the UN confirmed use of these munitions, finding remnants of 29 cluster bombs.
Two Yemeni men captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantánamo Bay for 14 years have been released to Ghana, officials said Jan. 6. These two are among the 17 detainees scheduled for release this month. The men were suspected of training with al-Qaeda and fighting with the Taliban but were never charged. They had been cleared for release in 2009, but required a host country to accept them before actual release could be ordered.
Last month, the New York Times reported that China is to establish its first overseas military base as part of "a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad." The base, in the Horn of Africa mini-state of Djibouti, will be used for policing the Gulf of Aden against piracy. The US also has 4,000 troops stationed at Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier—from which it conducts drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. Former colonial master France as well as Japan and other nations also station forces in Djibouti. (The Hill, Dec. 10) Now reports are mounting that China is seeking a second base in Africa—this time in Nambia, which currently hosts no foreign military forces.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Obama administration to cancel a pending arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the absence of serious investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen. On No. 17, the Pentagon announced that the State Department had approved a sale of $1.29 billion worth of air-to-ground munitions such as laser-guided bombs and "general purpose" bombs with guidance systems. "The purchase replenishes the Royal Saudi Air Force's current weapons supplies, which are becoming depleted due to the high operational tempo in multiple counter-terrorism operations," the Pentagon statement said. But HRW's Joe Stork countered: "The US government is well aware of the Saudi-led coalition's indiscriminate air attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen since March. Providing the Saudis with more bombs under these circumstances is a recipe for greater civilian deaths, for which the US will be partially responsible."
Damning evidence of war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition highlights the urgent need for independent, effective investigation of violations in Yemen and for the suspension of transfers of certain arms, said Amnesty International in a new report published Oct. 7. "'Bombs fall from the sky day and night': Civilians Under Fire in Northern Yemen" examines 13 deadly airstrikes by the coalition in Sa'da, northeastern Yemen, which killed some 100 civilians, including 59 children. The report documents the use of internationally banned cluster bombs. "This report uncovers yet more evidence of unlawful air-strikes carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, some of which amount to war crimes. It demonstrates in harrowing detail how crucial it is to stop arms being used to commit serious violations of this kind," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser who headed the organization's fact-finding mission to Yemen. "The USA and other states exporting weapons to any of the parties to the Yemen conflict have a responsibility to ensure that the arms transfers they authorize are not facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law."
The Pentagon announced July 22 that Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al-Qaeda operative from Kuwait, was killed on two weeks earlier "in a kinetic strike" while "traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria." Al-Fadhli was a leader of al-Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan Group," a cadre of veteran militants now based in Syria. The Khorasan Group has been "plotting external attacks against the United States and its allies," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. The statement acknowledged that al-Fadhli survived air-strikes on Khorasan Group targets in September 2014. According to US officials, the Khorasan Group is made up of operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya and North Africa who were ordered to Syria by al-Qaeda "emir" Ayman al-Zawahiri. Among al-Fadhli's missions was reportedly the failed effort to reconcile the Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front with ISIS. (Long War Journal, July 22)
Human Rights Watch on June 30 issued a new report charging violations of international humanitarian law in the Saudi-led air campaign against Shi'ite rebels in Yemen. Numerous apparently deliberate attacks on residential homes and civilian infrastructure are documented in the report, "Targeting Saada," which details air-strikes on the Shi'ite-stronghold city of that name. HRW compiled the names and ages of 59 people killed in aerial attacks in Saada between April 6 and May 11, including 14 women and 35 children. Local Houthi authorities told HRW that coalition aircraft struck the city's electricity station, public water works, facroties, markets, an empty school, a crowded petrol station, and a wheat storage facility.
The US State Department on June 19 released its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2014," finding that the number of terrorist attacks around the world rose by a third in 2014 compared with the previous year. The number of people killed in such attacks rose by 80%, to nearly 33,000. The sharp increase was largely due to the "unprecedented" seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, and the growith of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Terrorist groups used more aggressive tactics in 2014 than in previous years, such as beheadings and crucifixions. ISIS attacks on religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis are cited. Islamic State was particularly lethal. The reports says the June 2014 massacre at a prison in Mosul, Iraq, in which ISIS killed 670 Shi'ite prisoners "was the deadliest attack worldwide since September 11, 2001." The report notes the "central al-Qaeda leadership" has been weakened, but the network's regional affiliates have gained ground in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (BBC News, Reuters, State Department, June 19)