Arms Sales to Saudis Leave American Fingerprints on Yemen’s Carnage

Obfuscation and impunity continue to characterize the coalition’s airstrike campaign. The coalition rarely identifies which country carries out an airstrike, although the vast majority are Saudi and Emirati, officials say. In July, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued an order lifting “all military and disciplinary penalties” for Saudi troops fighting in Yemen, an apparent amnesty for possible war crimes.

Over the summer, as Emirati warplanes pounded the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, General Votel and the defense secretary at the time, Jim Mattis, held at least 10 phone calls or video conferences with Saudi and Emirati leaders, urging them to show restraint, a senior American military official and a senior Western official said.

At least one of the conferences involved Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the effective leader of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Saudis are decent partners,” Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr., a former top commander of American air forces in the Middle East, said in an interview. “And sometimes our partners don’t always do things we would expect.”

Short of halting all weapons sales, critics say the United States could pressure the Saudis by curtailing its assistance to the air war. Hundreds of American aviation mechanics and other specialists, working under Defense Department contracts, keep the Saudi F-15 fleet in the air. In 2017, Boeing signed a $480 million contract for service repairs to the fleet.

But after the departure of Mr. Mattis, who resigned last week, the Defense Department will be helmed by Patrick M. Shanahan, an arms industry insider. Mr. Shanahan, the acting defense secretary as of Jan 1., spent more than three decades at Boeing, the F-15 manufacturer which has earned further billions from lucrative service contracts in Saudi Arabia.

Pentagon officials said that in his current job as deputy defense secretary, Mr. Shanahan had recused himself from decisions involving Boeing.

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