The Pentagon is looking to increase support for Saudi Arabia’s two-year-old war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, signaling a possible expansion of Washington’s controversial backing for a campaign that human rights groups say has killed hundreds of civilians and fueled a growing humanitarian crisis.
Several Defense officials told Foreign Policy the prospect of more American help for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was under discussion even as the administration examines its broader strategy in the region, including looking at ways to counter Iran and to defeat Islamic State militants. The Pentagon views increased support for the Saudi-led coalition as one way of potentially pushing back against Iran’s influence in Yemen, as well as shoring up ties with an ally that felt neglected by the previous administration.
The Trump administration has yet to make a final decision and Defense Department officials are locked in a debate over the issue with the White House, with some senior aides to Trump favoring confronting Iran elsewhere, one advisor said.
But pressing ahead with more U.S. hardware and intelligence for Saudi Arabia’s troubled intervention in Yemen brings with it an array of risks and pitfalls, experts and former officials said.
By pouring more weapons and ammunition into the civil war, now entering its third year, Washington could inadvertently strengthen the hand of al Qaeda’s most lethal branch, which has already exploited the chaos to its benefit.
Encouraging the Saudi-led coalition in its military campaign, which has so far proved unable to defeat the outgunned Houthi rebels, could prolong the suffering of a civilian population that aid agencies warn is on the verge of famine.
And seeking to checkmate Iran’s influence in Yemen could provoke retaliation from Tehran against the United States and its allies elsewhere in the region, possibly posing a danger to vital shipping lanes or American military advisors deployed in Iraq.