Anti-war and human rights activists have decried a proposed military support contract for Saudi Arabia as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s promise to end American support for the devastating Saudi war in Yemen.
The US State Department announced Thursday that it has approved a military maintenance agreement for Saudi Arabia, worth $500 million.
"This proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security objectives by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East," the State Department said in a statement.
It is the first major military support proposal sent to Congress since Biden took office in January, amid criticism of Washington’s complicity in the grinding military aggression in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The package would provide continued maintenance support services for a wide range of helicopters, including a future fleet of CH-47D Chinook helicopters, according to Reuters.
In February, President Biden announced he was ending US support for the war in Yemen, including "relevant arms sales," touting the move as part of efforts to restore an emphasis on human rights. “This war has to end,” Biden declared at the time, adding that the conflict had created a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
Peace advocates, who had hailed the president’s move back then, are dismayed at his administration for breaking the promise of ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen.
"This breaks the Biden administration's promise to end US support for the tragic war in Yemen," tweeted Peace Action executive director Jon Rainwater, adding that it is "pretty tone-deaf for State Department to call [Saudi Arabia] a 'friendly country.'"
Wow. This breaks the #Biden administration’s promise to end US support for the tragic war in #Yemen.— Jon Rainwater (@jonrainwater) September 17, 2021
Pretty tone deaf for State Dept. to call #Saudi a “friendly country”. Friendly to whom? Not Yemeni civilians or Saudi women. RealGeopolitik at its worst. https://t.co/6WzjZyMB23
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow for conventional arms control and transfers at Washington-based Arms Control Association, accused the Biden administration of being disingenuous about claiming to support an end to the blockade of Yemen.
“If the US is serious about ending the blockade of Yemen, and to not provide ‘offensive weapons’ to Saudi Arabia, it certainly is not using its leverage when it plans a half $billion agreement to continue service of Saudi helicopters,” he tweeted.
If the US is serious about ending blockade of Yemen, and to not provide "offensive weapons" to Saudi Arabia, it certainly is not using its leverage when it plans a half $billion agreement to continue service of Saudi helicopters https://t.co/qhlVf6jSzR— Jeff Abramson (@jeffabramson) September 17, 2021
Erik Sperling-- executive director of Foreign Policy, an advocacy group raising awareness about the conflict in Yemen-- tweeted a series of reports chronicling atrocities committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, using helicopters.
EXPECTATION: Biden ends "all support for offensive operations" &"relevant arms sales" in Yemen— Erik Sperling 🌍 #BidenEndTheBlockade 🇾🇪 (@ErikSperling) September 17, 2021
REALITY: Biden approves $500m in support for Saudi attack helicopters—used for offensive operations
THREAD—just a few of many war crimes Saudis did with this US-supported aircraft: pic.twitter.com/XzCbDIYhiE
Saudi Arabia's war crimes in Yemen and its terrible human rights record have prompted calls from advocacy groups and some members of Congress for the United States to reexamine relations with its traditional ally.
In addition to a staggering death toll, the war has displaced millions of people, spread famine and infectious diseases, and destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies—emboldened by US political support and a steady stream of arms—launched a devastating war in Yemen in 2015 to reinstall a former friendly government and crush the popular Ansarullah movement.
Not only have the war objectives proven elusive, but the coalition has also found itself bogged down in Yemen thanks to a disheartening retaliatory campaign by the Yemeni armed forces and allied Popular Committees.