Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave a full-throated defense Friday of U.S. efforts to prevent civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen, making the case that without American involvement, there would be more.
Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said that “it’s a tragedy every time” a civilian dies, but that the United States is held to a high standard when it comes to preventing civilian fatalities.
“We are being held to a standard – ‘we’ being us and anyone associated with us – that has never been achieved before in warfare,” he said.
The comments came after two separate airstrikes on Dec. 26 by a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen killed dozens of people and prompted a rebuke from a top United Nations official in the country. Initial U.N. reports said that at least 54 civilians, including eight children, were killed in a strike on a crowded market, and an additional 14 people from one family were killed in a bombing on a farm.
The United States does not drop bombs as a part of the Saudi-led air war against the Houthis, but provides aerial refueling to Saudi jets, shares intelligence to improve their targeting and attempts to teach Saudi pilots how to be more accurate. Mattis bristled Friday when a reporter suggested that the effort isn’t working, saying “that’s your call.”
Asked whether he was “okay” with the current level of civilian casualties, the defense secretary grew stern.
“I’m never okay with any civilian casualty,” he said.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Dan Lamothe