WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Friday that the U.S. is committed to reducing the number of civilian casualties in the Saudi-led campaign against the rebels in Yemen, and to continue with efforts to train Saudi pilots to identify legitimate targets.
His comments to reporters at the Pentagon followed a U. N. report on Thursday, said that more than 100 civilians killed in airstrikes in Yemen in the past 10 days.
“We continue to train them how to do target identification, try to get their capabilities in these areas. We continue to work with their pilots and explain how you do the bombing, that kind of thing,” Mattis said. “Anything we can do to limit the civilian casualties, we will do … We’re going to try to make that the military, the saudi’s are more able to make what they think of their military necessity, without the killing of innocents.”
At the same time, he blamed the rebels for weapons storage in residential areas, which he said was not a sign that they care about the safety of the citizens.
On Thursday, the U. N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said that Saudi-led air strikes had killed 109 civilians since Dec. 18, including at least 54 in the air raids on a market in the western province of Taiz, and 14 people from the same family in an air strike on a farm in the coastal areas of Hodeida province.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Shiite rebels criticized the statement, calling it “biased” in the direction of the rebels and calling on the U. N. to review the humanitarian work mechanism and the competence of its employees in Yemen. It said that the statement made “in a constant state of uncertainty about the information and the data on which the U. N. trust and undermines its credibility.”
The coalition, backup is an internationally recognized government, is a war with Iran-allied Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, since March 2015. The mat war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 3 million, damaged critical infrastructure and pushed the country on the brink of famine.