As Death Toll Rises in Yemen, White House Questions Its Support for Saudis

© AP Photo / Hani MohammedWorkers inspect the rubble of a food storage warehouse destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015
Workers inspect the rubble of a food storage warehouse destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015 - Sputnik International
US-backed Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes in Yemen, which have reportedly cost the lives of at least 1,500 civilians so far, have divided the Obama administration, as many fear being blamed for abetting war crimes that could empower Islamic militants.

A boy walks in front of fighters of the Popular Resistance Committees riding on an armored vehicle during a ceremony where they formally take over territory that the government had managed to recover from Houthi militants, in the central province of Marib October 11, 2015. - Sputnik International
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Sources in the White House admit they are having a rough time supporting the role of close ally Saudi Arabia in Yemen, as a Saudi-Iran proxy war rages in the Arab nation.

However, despite mounting reports of civilians being killed and terrorist groups making inroads in the country, US officials have reassured sceptics that second-guessing American support for the Saudis could jeopardize the whole situation.

The Iran nuclear deal has already strained tensions between Saudi Arabia and the US, and Washington has no intention of continuing to distance itself with its most powerful ally in the region.

Meanwhile, what was supposed to be a brief Saudi-led campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who overturned Yemen's government has now entered its eighth month, and no end is in sight.

"The White House is increasingly frustrated with the Saudis, and they're trying to figure out how to handle it," a source in the US administration told Politico.

Face-to-face discussions appear to have had little effect, the expert said, but "the US is walking on such eggshells around Saudi when it comes to the public domain that they're not willing to ramp up their public pressure."

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That hesitation seems to have prompted a rift within the Obama administration over the sensitive issue. A former US official told journalists that the main disputes are between those who believe "this humanitarian toll is ultimately going to be a stain on our reputation and we're going to end up holding the blame" and others who "will say it's very important to restore order and deliver a very clear message about the intolerance that we as a nation and community of nations will have for this type of seizure of power."

A State Department official, when asked whether the US was frustrated with the Saudis, said "We're always frustrated with everyone."

Civilian deaths in Yemen have become a tragic routine since hostilities began in late March. According to UN data, the majority were killed by Saudi-led airstrikes that are supposed to be targeting Houthi rebels and their allies. The US was quick to announce its "logistical" and "intelligence" support for the Saudi royal family after Yemeni leader Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi fled Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, early this year.

The idea of Shiite Iran calling shots in neighboring Yemen was a red flag for Sunni Saudi Arabia, which together with Qatar and UAE hopes to thwart the rising power of Iran.

It is still likely that "the Saudis are in this for the long haul," said Fahad Nazer, a former policy analyst at the Saudi embassy in Washington: "They continue to be very resolute in this campaign."

People gather at the site of Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanban, a region in Dhamar province 113 km (70 miles) southeast of the capital, Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. - Sputnik International
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The Saudi-led coalition has been successful in its fight against the rebels since March, although the conflict has prompted almost 2.3 million people to flee their homes, as well as food, water and fuel shortages, according to human rights activists. Around 2,500 civilians have allegedly been killed during the conflict, roughly two-thirds of them died during airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies. US legislators have taken issue with the Saudi airstrikes, which have hit schools and hospitals. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has raised concerns over the Obama administration's right to assist foreign forces which commit human rights abuses, and his fellow Democrat, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, questioned the need for US arms sales to the Saudis.

Amnesty International has reported a very high probability that all sides in the Yemen conflict had perpetrated war crimes.

Due to Saudi resistance, the US and other governments recently refused to back an independent UN investigation of human rights abuse in Yemen; instead, they supported a resolution that would allow the Yemenis, headed by President Hadi, to oversee an inquiry with UN assistance.

Long before the March campaign in Yemen, the US had been slammed for its drone attacks on suspected Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the country, which resulted in multiple civilian deaths. The fact that the US continues to assist Saudi Arabia in Yemen despite civilian deaths could further play into the hands of Islamic extremists, as the last months have witnessed the rise of Al Qaeda in the the country, according to analysts.

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