February 05, 2019

Senator Warren Seeks Clarification and Additional Information from CENTCOM Commander on U.S. Involvement in Yemen

New Reporting Raises Questions About Extent of U.S. Support for Saudi Coalition

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to General Joseph L. Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), seeking clarification and additional information regarding United States support to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its coalition's operations in Yemen. The Senator's letter, which follows recent reporting that calls into question statements made by General Votel and other CENTCOM officials, comes ahead of General Votel's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

In a March 2018 Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Warren questioned General Votel about whether CENTCOM tracks the targets struck by U.S.-refueled planes and the results of each mission, to which he replied "we do not." In that same hearing, the Senator asked General Votel whether CENTCOM could verify whether U.S. fuel or U.S. munitions were used in a strike when there are credible media reports of civilian casualties resulting from such strikes, to which he replied "I don't believe we are."  In addition, in response to an August 2018 letter in which Senator Warren again questioned General Votel about the United States' ability to track the purpose, mission, and results of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen supported by the U.S., General Votel provided answers that have since been called into question by recent reporting. Specifically, a December 2018 report in the New York Times claimed that American liaison officers at the coalition's headquarters in Riyadh readily had access to a "database that detailed every airstrike: warplane, target, munitions used and a brief description of the attack."

Expressing concern in her letter, Senator Warren wrote, "This new information raises the troubling possibility that CENTCOM does in fact have access to information that would allow it to determine whether and when Saudi or United Arab Emirates (UAE) aircraft armed or refueled with U.S. support have struck targets in Yemen, if CENTCOM chose to do so."

The Senator's letter also cited a January 2019 report in Yahoo News that suggests greater U.S. involvement in the training of coalition pilots to prepare them for combat operations in Yemen. According to the report, a CENTCOM spokesperson indicated that the U.S. did not provide specific training support for the Saudi-led coalition's campaign in Yemen. However, the same report also detailed how units in CENTCOM have in fact done so.

"I appreciated your prompt and thorough response to my earlier letter, but I am concerned about continued public reporting about the extent of U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led coalition's operations in Yemen," Senator Warren continued.

Senator Warren's letter asked General Votel to respond to a series of detailed questions about  the ability of U.S. officials to track airstrikes, and the role of U.S. forces in support of the Saudi coalition by no later than February 15, 2019. 

In October 2018, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) authored a joint op-ed in which they criticized the Trump Administration for continuing to support the Saudi and UAE-led bombing campaign in Yemen and called for more Congressional oversight of these military operations.  Later that month, she sent letters to the Department of Justice and State Department demanding an investigation into a report that describes targeted killing operations in Yemen by former or current U.S. servicemembers hired by the government of the United Arab Emirates.  In a November 2018 foreign policy address, Senator Warren called on the Trump Administration to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed by weapons sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States. In December 2018, Senator Warren voted to pass a bipartisan joint resolution to stop our involvement in Saudi military operations in Yemen unless Congress provides specific authorization, while allowing our counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda and its affiliates to continue.