Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 52° Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Warships patrolling sea lanes off Yemen

U.S. wants Saudis to limit airstrikes on cities, towns

People flee from their homes after a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Monday. (Associated Press)
People flee from their homes after a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Monday. (Associated Press)
Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – Top Obama administration officials have failed for several days to persuade Saudi Arabia’s government to limit the scope of its airstrikes on cities and towns in Yemen, a campaign that authorities said killed nearly 50 people Monday in Sanaa, the capital.

The U.S. effort to restrain the Saudi attacks came as the Pentagon moved the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and a guided-missile destroyer into waters off Yemen. In all, nine U.S. warships are patrolling near strategic shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Arabian Sea.

Officials said the growing armada is meant, in part, to deter Iran from shipping weapons and other supplies to the Houthi rebels and their allies battling remnants of the central government for control of Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not comment Monday on the movement of the carrier, but said the administration is increasingly alarmed about Iran arming the Houthis and the growing humanitarian crisis.

“We have seen evidence that the Iranians are supplying weapons and other forms of support to the Houthis in Yemen,” he said. “That support will only contribute to greater violence in that country.”

Saudi warplanes began bombing Yemen on March 26 in an effort to stop the swift advance of the Shiite Muslim rebels, to protect the kingdom’s southern border and to return President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who fled into exile last month, to power in Sanaa.

The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations, expedited weapons deliveries and other crucial support.

But senior U.S. officials, who were not enthusiastic about the Saudi war plan, are increasingly dismayed by heavy civilian casualties and now believe it highly unlikely that Hadi can be reinstated without a ground invasion. They also worry that the turmoil has allowed Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate to expand its territory.

The White House would like Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies to curtail the airstrikes and narrow the objective to focus on protecting the Saudi border, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing internal deliberations.

The United Nations last week reported more than 760 civilian deaths in the last month. An airstrike Monday in Sanaa killed nearly 50 more people, injured hundreds more and wrecked a large number of homes, officials said.

The airstrike apparently targeted a mountaintop missile depot but set off a series of secondary explosions that shattered windows miles away, wrecked dozens of storefronts and sent smoke billowing skyward. The acting health minister, Ghazi Ismael, appealed for blood donations for the injured and for safe passage for medical supplies, and the ministry said its official death toll of 46 would probably rise because many injuries were critical.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, blamed the explosions on the Houthis and their allies. “The size of the explosions … showed they have other ammunition and missiles stored there,” Asiri told reporters in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.