On August 9 in a school bus filled with kids stopped at a market so that the driver could get a drink. While the bus was stationary in the parking lot it was hit by an air strike carried out by the Saudi Arabia led international coalition currently participating in Yemen’s civil war. At least 29 of the children are confirmed dead, though some sources are saying as many as 40 died, and at least 11 adults were also killed in the blast. The U.S. is a member of the coalition that carried out the attack, and specifically has been supplying ammunition, weapons, training, targeting assistance, and in air refueling for planes carrying out airstrikes.
It’s not known, and likely will not be known or released, what the extent or nature was of U.S. participation in this particular airstrike. During a press briefing later in the day on August 9th State Department spokes person Heather Nauert was asked if this incident would be cause for the U.S. government to reevaluate its involvement in the conflict. She responded that Saudi Arabia is an “important strategic partner in the region” and recommended that journalists refer that question to the Department of Defense (DOD). U.S. Funding for coalition military activities in the region is coming from the State Department. The DOD has not issued any statement on the incident so far. Journalists also asked Ms. Nauert if the U.S. would push for an independent investigation into the incident and she repeatedly emphasized that the State Department would be calling for the Saudi government to investigate.
The Saudi government’s initial response to the killing of these children and other civilians has been to call it “a legitimate military operation” and claim that the air strike on a parked school bus full of kids was “carried out in accordance with international law”. Others, such as the United Nations Secretary General, are calling for independent investigation. Thousands of civilians have already died during the war and many of those deaths have been the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces. In November of last year the Saudi Arabian military imposed a full blockade of Yemen that prevented food and other essential supplies from entering the country. The blockade severely exacerbated the ongoing famine and cholera epidemic in Yemen, which have also killed thousands so far.
Several countries including Germany and Norway opted to leave the coalition in response to the blockade. The U.S. administration chose to back Saudi Arabia and remain a member in spite of the blockade significantly contributing to a humanitarian crisis. A few weeks after the blockade began President Trump did call on Saudi Arabia to end it and the Saudi government eventually allowed some food and humanitarian assistance through. Even with some assistance coming in, the situation in Yemen is dire. As of this July the United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that “11 million children in Yemen – more than the entire population of Switzerland – need help getting food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.”
The death of the children in their school bus on Thursday has drawn renewed attention to Yemen but unfortunately it’s very unlikely that these will be the last civilian deaths in this war. And if the U.S. administration is still unwilling to reassess its role in the coalition and its seemingly unconditional support for Saudi Arabia’s actions, then it will continue to be partially responsible for atrocities like these.