WASHINGTON – After Yemen’s foreign minister called for a “reassessment” of U.S. counterterrorism operations following the deadly U.S. raid in Yemen last month that killed 36-year-old Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens and several civilians, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) requested that the members of the U.S. Senate receive a classified briefing on ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations and objectives in Yemen. In a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Acting Director of National Intelligence Michael Dempsey, the senators raised serious concerns about recent U.S. operations in Yemen, and emphasized that defeating terrorism and bringing an end to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and civil war must remain the highest priorities.
“We write today with serious concerns about U.S. policy in Yemen and to urgently request a classified briefing regarding our actions and objectives there,” wrote the senators. Our counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula must remain a top priority, which is why reports that the Yemeni Foreign Minister has called for a ‘reassessment’ of U.S. counterterrorism operations following the recent raid are troubling. Events of the last two weeks underscore the complexity and the risks of our involvement in Yemen, and we believe a detailed report to Congress from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and the Intelligence Community about U.S. policy there is necessary.”
Murphy, Paul, Franken, and Lee have been vocal critics of U.S. support for military campaigns in Yemen that have led to devastating humanitarian consequences and a security vacuum that has empowered U.S. terrorist enemies, al Qaeda and ISIS. Last year, the four senators introduced a joint resolution of disapproval to block the $1.15 billion U.S. sale of Abrams tanks and associated major defense articles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They also applauded a decision by the White House in December 2016 to halt some military arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and called for further action by the U.S. to end military support for a war marked by humanitarian abuses. In April 2016, Murphy and Paul introduced a separate joint resolution to increase Congressional oversight of military sales to Saudi Arabia by requiring the President of the United States to formally certify that the Government of Saudi Arabia is demonstrating an ongoing effort to target terrorist groups, minimize harm to civilians, and facilitate humanitarian assistance before Congress can consider the sale or transfer of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.
Full text of the letter is available online and below:
The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Michael P. Dempsey
Acting Director of National Intelligence
Office of the Directory of National Intelligence
Washington, DC 20511
Dear Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, and Acting Director Dempsey:
We write today with serious concerns about U.S. policy in Yemen and to urgently request a classified briefing regarding our actions and objectives there. The situation in Yemen remains complex, with an ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis—further complicated by U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign there—as well as a growing terrorist threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Our counterterrorism mission against AQAP must remain a top priority, which is why reports that the Yemeni Foreign Minister has called for a ‘reassessment’ of U.S. counterterrorism operations following the recent raid are troubling. We therefore respectfully request a briefing for members of the United States Senate on the status of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen, our ongoing involvement in the Yemeni civil war, our support for U.S. allies operating in Yemen, and overall U.S. objectives there.
Events of the last two weeks underscore the complexity and the risks of our involvement in Yemen, and we believe a detailed report to Congress from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and the Intelligence Community about U.S. policy there is necessary.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your timely response.
Christopher S. Murphy