American weapons are still finding their way to Yemen, even following both international backlash and bipartisan condemnation in the US Congress. Recent footage obtained and published by CNN showed shipments being delivered to the port of Aden, Yemen. Heavy armoured vehicles can be seen driving from the port through the streets of Aden in the video.
Both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are allegedly passing shipments of US equipment and weapons through to militias in Yemen, not arming their troops in the area. CNN verified that one such shipment was delivered by the Saudi vessel Bahri Hofuf last week after it left Jeddah. From there, it made port in Sudan. Then it turned off its transponder and “went dark,” falling off the radar, before arriving in Aden.
US law forbids the transfer of military equipment and technology by the purchaser, but last week’s occurrence is not the first time CNN has caught equipment making its way to regional militias. In February, the network published an in-depth investigative report that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were passing along weapons, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. At the time, US Democratic Senator Chris Murphy called the investigation a “bombshell” and had hoped it would be the final straw for American support in the Yemen war.
Military officials disagreed, however, citing the threat to American lives in the region if it were to end its support of Saudi Arabia, according to Gen. Joseph Votel, top US commander for the Middle East. Despite the evidence that American allies were violating the terms of their arms agreements, US President Donald Trump insisted they could not simply be torn apart because “I don’t want to lose all of that investment being made into our country,” he said.
Congressmen made several attempts in the wake of the CNN report and murder of Jamal Khashoggi to limit US support of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but they were consistently vetoed by Trump. Furthermore, responsibility for the shipments to Yemen in violation of US law is continuously denied.
“Oshkosh Defense strictly follows all US laws and regulations relating to export control,” the MRAP manufacturer told CNN.
After a similar incident was caught unfolding by CNN in October, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland stated that he could not comment on any investigations by the US military and also insisted that American MRAP usage in Yemen is not forbidden. While that statement may be technically true, the Arms Export Control Act expressly prohibits customers from transferring American military technology to other state or non-state actors.
Saudi Col. Turki Al-Maliki also denied legal transgressions, stating “all military equipment is used by Saudi forces under terms and conditions of Foreign Military Sales adopted by the US government and in pursuance of the Arms Export Control Act.” Likewise, a senior UAE official said “in no uncertain terms that we violate end-user agreements in any manner.”
In its defense, the UAE argued that the Giants Brigade which was filmed taking possession of MRAPs is a “part of Yemeni forces” and therefore part of a coalition which has “collective possession” of the military equipment. The US Department of Defense viewed the situation differently and said the UAE did not have permission to transfer weaponry to third parties.
“The United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen,” said Johnny Michael, Pentagon spokesman.
Turning the Tide
A 2014 deal with the UAE contained $2.5 billion for 4,500 MRAPs, which now appear to be falling into the wrong hands. The Giants Brigade which used to fight on the side of the government, has now seemingly switched to fighting against it. The Abu Abbas Brigade, an al-Qaeda linked militia, has also managed to obtain some of the vehicles after the group joined the Yemeni army.
For Yemen militias, US weapons are a form of currency to sway local support in their favor. Militants are just as prone to human nature as everybody else and it is natural to want to be on the winning team.
“There are lethal and powerful weapons that the militias were using against the people. American weaponry is deadly. If the militias or others have them, they may be the winning side,” said Hussein Mohammed Talbi, Yemeni National Army soldier.
In some cases, American MRAPs have been found abandoned on roadsides and CNN reporters were even able to enter them. The leak of US equipment to militias in Yemen poses a significant risk beyond the immediate conflict. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the largest killer of American and allied forces in the Middle East. MRAPs help shield soldiers from them, but if the technology falls into the wrong hands, it could be reverse-engineered, limiting its effectiveness in future battles.
Several congressional sources told CNN that MRAP deliveries to the UAE are now delayed pending a Pentagon investigation. Furthermore, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee requested an urgent meeting with both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a press release dated Oct. 28.