Arab coalition investigators refute claims of deadly errors

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) of the Arab Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen on Wednesday refuted a number of claims raised by global bodies and international organizations on alleged errors committed by the forces during their military operations inside Yemen.

In a press conference held at the Armed Forces Officer’s Club in Riyadh, the official spokesman of the JIAT, Mansour Al-Mansour, released the assessment reports of the investigations conducted into four specific incidents.

Violation of international waters rules

With regard to the Human Rights Watch report published on Aug. 21, 2019, alleging that the coalition forces stopped about 70 fishermen on a small boat and 2 large dhows (sambuk) were fishing off the coast of Eritrea near Difnen Island on Oct. 16, 2016. Over the course of the day, coalition forces detained 12 people — nine men and three children — and held them for between 17 months and more than two-and-a-half years. Eight fishermen remain in detention.

The JIAT vetted the incident and reviewed all documents and listening to the statements of those involved in the implementation of related maritime missions. It found that the forces received intelligence information stating that a large boat belonging to Al-Houthi armed militia; is located in a specific location in the international waters and being used to collect information and locate the coalition ships; in order to control the smuggling of weapons, by many of boats, from the African coast and the Yemeni coast, using fishing activity as a cover.

In the afternoon of the said date, one of the coalition ships spotted the boat and monitored its activities. At the meantime, another boat was spotted not flying a flag, and towing two small boats within close distance of the main boat and heading toward it.

Therefore, the coalition naval forces tracked and stopped it as per the international law as well the rules of engagement of the coalition forces. Later it became clear through investigations that the boat was used to gather information about coalition ships and smuggle weapons from African coast of to the Yemeni coast, thus the boat lost its protection status, as per relevant international laws.

After questioning the captain of the boat, it turned out that he was a major arms smuggler, he admitted through interrogations that he was collecting information on coalition ships, smuggling weapons between the coast of Africa and the coast of (Al-Makha) in Yemen, and using fishing activity as a cover.

The detainees were handed over to the coalition authority in (Jazan) on Oct. 24, 2016, to complete the investigation and detention procedures, on the basis of their admission to play a direct role in military operations. Four persons, including three young boys, were handed over to the legitimate government of Yemen out of 12 who were detained.

In light of that, the JIAT found that the procedures taken by Coalition Naval Forces, to stop, search and capture a boat, for their involvement in collecting and providing information on the location of coalition ships to Al-Houthi armed militia, and arms smuggling operations were legitimate.

With regard to the allegations that at approximately 9:00 a.m. on April 17, 2018, Masar Fort and nearby houses in the village of Masar in Manakhah directorate of Sanaa governorate were attacked by coalition forces airstrike.

The attacks on the area allegedly lasted until 3:00 p.m., resulted in the destruction of the wall of the fort and some of the archaeological buildings inside it, including a mosque of archeological significance, a number of guard towers surrounding the fort wall, grain stores the water tanks inside it. The communications and radio towers located on the top of the mountain where the Fort is located were destroyed, according to the claim.

The JIAT after vetting and reviewing all documents pertaining to the incident found the following:

1- The coalition Forces did not carry out any air missions on Masar village on the date of the claim.

2- By studying the air missions carried out by the coalition forces a day before the date of the claim, the JIAT found that the coalition forces received intelligence information that Al-Houthi armed militia had taken over a site at the top of a mountain having a building along with some structures, and communications masts in Manakhah directorate of Sanaa governorate, using it as its command and communication center.

Additionally, the militia’s field commanders and their foreign experts were using the site to support the war effort, which is considered to be a high-value legitimate military target, whose destruction achieves a military advantage, according to relevant international convention and law.

On April 16, 2018, the coalition forces carried out an air mission on a military target command and communication center located on the top of a mountain in Manakhah directorate west of Sanaa, using guided bombs that hit their targets, except for one bomb that did not hit its target.

The JIAT also found that the coalition forces had taken the possible precautions to avoid accidental losses or damages to civilian objects, or in any case reduce it to the minimum, by using precision-guided bombs commensurate with the size of the target, and it ensured that no civilians were present before and during the implementation of the targeting operation.

The JIAT also found that the desired military advantage of targeting had been achieved, by neutralizing the command and control capabilities of Al-Houthi armed militia, and degrading their military capabilities.

By evaluating the documents relating to the claim, JIAT found the following:

1- Masar village in claim is located on a mountain in the southern part of Manakhah directorate west of Sanaa.

2- Masar Fort is not listed as an archaeological site on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3- The military air mission carried out on the target took place on April 16, corresponding to what was published in the media.

Analysis of satellite images of Masar village after the date of the claim by specialists and photo analysts of JIAT, and comparing them with what was published in the media and open sources showed:

1- No aerial damage to the mosque in Masar village, which is 60 meters away from the military target.

2- There was no evidence of grain stores and water tanks inside the Fort as claimed.

3- No aerial damage to the water reservoir located outside the fence on the south, and west of the military target.

4- Two buildings adjacent to the military target were damaged by the fall of one of the bombs near it, as a result of a malfunction in the bomb.

By reviewing the after-mission reports and analyzing the video recordings of the targeting JIAT found the following:

1- Coalition Forces surveyed the target area before carrying out the mission; and ensured that there were no movements of vehicles or civilian personnel before and during the targeting.

2- The bombs hit their targets; except for one bomb that landed on the claimed Masar Fort fence; due to a malfunction; which damaged a part of the fort fence and one of its guard towers.

In light of that, JIAT found the following:

1- The procedures taken by coalition forces in dealing with the legitimate military target were correct and in accordance with the international humanitarian law and its customary rules.

2- It is appropriate for the coalition states to provide assistance for the material damage caused a bomb; that fell on the fence of Masar Fort fence due to a malfunction.

With regard to the Human Rights Watch report published on Aug. 21, 2019 claiming that seven boats with 91 men fishing in the form of a scattered group near Zubair islands; about 45) nautical miles from Hodeidah were stopped and detained by the coalition forces in mid-March 2018. The report also alleged that the fishermen were detained in Jazan and one of the fishermen; was shot in the leg and received medical treatment at a nearby hospital for 10 days. All 91 men were released after 40 days, the report alleged.

Records review

After reviewing the records of events of all coalition ships located in the maritime operations area; the JIAT found a coalition ship was carrying out an escort mission; and protecting an oil tanker, the coalition ship and the oil tanker were shot at by a missile at 11:55 a.m. on March 24, 2018 that exploded at 200 yards from the coalition ship, the coalition ship identified the direction from which the missile was launched; and observed 7 boats at the same direction.

The ship ordered through the loudspeakers those boats to stop, 6 followed the order while one boats did not respond, so the ship fired warning shots to stop the runaway boat, which continued to escape, forcing the coalition ship to stop it by force.

The coalition naval forces took the necessary precautions in dealing with the boat in accordance; with the rules of engagement by sounding a warning as well as using warning shots. After the boat was stopped by force, it appeared that one of its crew members had been injured; and the coalition ship crew immediately provided first aid to the injured person.

The coalition ship inspected all 7 boats with 91 people on board and took their testimonies. They were later handed over to the coalition unit in Jazan, which provided them with medical services by referring them to a local hospital, medical examinations showed that a number of them had contracted hepatitis; where they were isolated from the rest and treated, and then interrogated and released on May 1, 2018.

Health services claims

With regard to the statement made by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen on Feb. 10, 2020; claiming an attack on hospitals caused the reduction of health services provided to thousands of displaced people in Marib. Initial reports indicated that Al-Jafrah hospital) and the Saudi Field hospital; in Mjzar directorate of Marib governorate were hit on Feb. 7, 2020, during the clashes. The two hospitals were serving 15,000 people, many of whom are displaced; the two hospitals; are located 75 km northwest of Marib city.

After vetting the incident and reviewing all documents; the JIAT found that the coalition forces carried out an air mission on an armed vehicle in a remote area in Mjzar directorate of Marib governorate; using one guided bomb that hit its target and that the military target was 8.3 km away from Al-Jafrah hospital and the Saudi Field hospital.

By analyzing the satellite images, the JIAT found; that there were no traces of air targeting effects on the hospitals and analysis of the videos and images from open sources; showed that the damage to hospitals did not indicate that they were caused by airstrikes.

In light of that; JIAT concluded that the coalition forces were not responsible for the strikes on the hospitals as it was claimed.

With regard to what was observed by the JIAT on the claim that on Jan. 1, 2018 that the coalition forces bombed the coastal city of Hodeidah, killing at least 23 people.

The JIAT found the following:

1- On Dec. 31, 2017; the day before the date of the claim, the coalition forces dealt with a military target 113 km away from Hodeidah city; the place of the claim.

2- On Jan. 2, 2018, the day after the date of the claim; the coalition forces dealt with a military target 105 km away from Hodeidah city, the place of the claim.

In light of that, JIAT concluded that the coalition forces were not responsible; for targeting the coastal city of Hodeidah.