MURPHY QUESTIONS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ON SAUDI-LED CIVILIAN CASUALTIES IN YEMEN

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, on Wednesday blasted R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, on his inaccurate testimony that civilian air-strike casualties in Yemen have decreased.

Mr. Cooper, with respect to the purpose of our continued coalition with the Saudis, you say in your testimony that, ‘We have worked with the Saudi led coalition over the course of its operations to reduce the occurrence of civilian casualties.’ But that is not in fact, true. In fact, the opposite is true. Civilian casualties are dramatically increasing,” Murphy said. “In 2017, airstrikes killed approximately 2,700 civilians inside Yemen. In 2018 airstrikes killed approximately 4,600 civilians inside Yemen, and reports are consistent that approximately one third of coalition airstrikes are hitting civilian targets. That number has not changed.”

Full transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Cooper is below:

MURPHY: “Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. It looks to us, these days, that the United States is the junior partner in this relationship. I think of all of the timeline that Senator Kaine just went through, the idea that we transferred the Saudis nuclear technology literally days after the dismemberment of a journalist under U.S. protection came to light causes us all to wonder whether this is just one big scam. I'm glad we're doing this hearing. I want to drill down part of your testimony, Mr. Cooper, with respect to the purpose of our continued coalition with the Saudis, you say in your testimony that, quote, ‘We have worked with the Saudi led coalition over the course of its operations to reduce the occurrence of civilian casualties.’ But that is not in fact true. In fact, the opposite is true. Civilian casualties are dramatically increasing. In 2017, airstrikes killed approximately 2,700 civilians inside Yemen. In 2018, airstrikes killed approximately 4,600 civilians inside Yemen, and reports are consistent that approximately one-third of coalition airstrikes are hitting civilian targets. That number has not changed. So do you have different numbers or do you agree with this broad assessment that civilian casualties are increasing, not decreasing?”

COOPER: “On the tragedy of the civilian casualties, there is an uptick, what we've seen from the Houthi activity on civilians. I would offer on the work…”

MURPHY: “That is not what I asked, I asked about the airstrikes, the airstrikes, the reports are that almost twice as many civilians were killed by airstrikes, and the airstrikes are by the coalition in 2018 and 2017. Your testimony says you have worked to reduce civilian casualties-”

COOPER: “Correct. ” 

MURPHY: “The data says they doubled. ”

COOPER: “Correct. There is ongoing work to not only mitigate, but also refine targeting, so this is not limited to where targets are conducted by the coalition, this is how they actually conduct the work. This is also avoiding areas where there would be civilian casualties – that work is not abated, it's actually been increased. We can talk to further detail about that.”

MURPHY: “The work is increased, but just to get the facts right, your wording in the testimony is careful, you say you've worked with them to reduce civilian casualties. But would you concede that civilian casualties from airstrikes has increased, not decreased?”

COOPER: “I cannot speak to the exact numbers, but I can tell you that as what we've done on capabilities to mitigate has increased on mitigating civilian casualties.”

MURPHY: “Why can't you speak to numbers? I mean, don't you, if you're working with them to decrease civilian casualties, wouldn't you keep the numbers?”

COOPER: “On the interagency we do work with our partners, with DOD and others to get them to a capacity where they are more precise in identifying targets, more precise in executing their targets, and actually an avoidance of a certain…”

MURPHY: “Look, I know you work on that. I know that you are trying to work on that. But you can’t testify before us today as to what the actual civilian casualties are, you don't know whether they have increased or decreased?”

COOPER: “The numbers associated with civilian casualties are not limited to what has been attributed to coalition numbers, Senator.”

MURPHY: “Okay, so do you know or do you not know whether civilian casualties have increased due to coalition airstrikes?”

COOPER: “I would say in a general sense here that there is a delta in information on what is attributed to a coalition-ascribed casualty and what may be ascribed to either a Houthi or one of the adversarial candidates…”

MURPHY: “Alright, I'll be happy to give you some fairly definitive information that states that they have doubled over time and the fact that you're talking around this is maddening. You talked earlier about consequences that would run to a U.S. ally that transfers arms that we have given to them to third parties not authorized to be the recipient of U.S. arms. As you know, in February of this year, there was a very disturbing report that suggested multiple U.S. weapons systems had been transferred to private militias operating inside Yemen. Reports are that U.S.-made Oshkosh armored vehicles were transferred to Abu Abbas, which is a militia linked with Al Qaeda and UAE and UAE’s government in fact, confirmed that they have transferred MRAP vehicles to the Giants Brigade, a Salafist militia that is doing work on the UAE’s behalf inside Yemen. Have you come to the conclusion that these transfers were made? And if you have, what have the consequences been and how can you justify continuing to sell arms to countries that are openly advertising that they are taking the weapons we give them and the vehicles we give them and giving them to others that are not authorized to be in their possession?”

COOPER: “Thank you, Senator. The UAE remains a security partner for us and the region not just for their sovereignty but also for our interest in equities. However, it does not preclude us from an investigation. It does not preclude us from … And it does not preclude us from any imposition or consequences. So specific to the MRAP question, that I've been in long enough to be able to directly address that issue with Emirati government. We are working with our embassy to get more detail and finality on that issue. It is an ongoing investigation. It has not been completely resolved, but we have directly approached the Emirati government at a ministerial level and at a working level, specific to the reported MRAP transfer.”

MURPHY: “My time is up, but they have publicly confirmed that they transferred the MRAPs. There is no investigation needed. They told a CNN reporter that they gave the MRAPs to the Giants Brigade. And so that report coming in February, doesn't need a five-month-long investigation. And part of our frustration about this new transfer of weapons to the Emiratis is it signals that there are no consequences. And so I would hope that this committee would make some further inquiry as to why an investigation is still ongoing when in February the UAE government confirmed that they had taken these MRAPs and given them to a Salafist militia inside the UAE. Sorry, I went over my time. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

###