The White House’s closest Persian Gulf allies have been handing out sophisticated American weapons to al Qaeda and dangerous groups in Yemen in violation of US an export rules, an investigation by CNN has revealed.
According to a investigation by the broadcaster, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two countries now leading a disastrous four-year war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, have been doling out American weapons to local allies that include groups tied to al Qaeda and other armed extremists hostile to the US.
Occasionally, the weapons have also fallen into the hands of vocally anti-Western Houthi rebels, a consequence of battlefield chaos in Yemen.
Separately, The Independent has seen an investigation by advocacy group Amnesty International, set to be released on Wednesday, alleging that the UAE has distributed advanced weaponry it has received from dozens of countries to Yemeni militias with little accountability or oversight.
The Amnesty report documents the distribution of US armoured vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns into the hands of several militias allied with the UAE.
Yemen is subject to interlocking, obscure, and ever-changing tribal loyalties that overlap with the armed groups tied up in the war. Some parts of the country remain under the sway of the local affiliate of al Qaeda or like-minded groups.
CNN reports that the Saudi-led coalition uses American weapons “as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape”.
Such distribution violates the terms of US weapons export rules. The Pentagon says it is investigating the allegations, which add to pressure on Saudi Arabia after spies and assassins close to the royal court ignited a global uproar abducting, murdering, and dismembering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Weapons cited in the CNN report include US-made TOW antitank missiles, MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), Oshkosh armoured vehicles, assault rifles sold on the black market, handguns, and pistols, as well as ammunition.
In 2017, a pro-Houthi television channel showed images of rebels driving an MRAP through Sanaa while the crowd chanted “Death to America.” CNN cited a Houthi official as saying Iran has already obtained an MRAP and could reverse engineer the vehicle, which was designed in part to thwart sophisticated roadside bomb attacks launched by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“There isn't a single American weapon that they don't try to find out its details, what it's made of, how it works," the source told CNN.
The US, UK and France continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE that are used in Yemen, even as some Western countries have announced embargoes.
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