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Opinion End U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war

Yemeni people carry the coffins of victims of a Saudi-led airstrike, during a funeral in Saada, Yemen, Aug. 13. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

ON AUG. 9, an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen struck a bus packed with young boys in the northern village of Dahyan, killing at least 51 people, including 40 children, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. As Saudi spokesmen defend this horrific massacre — one called the bus a “legitimate military target” — Trump administration officials are being pressed by members of Congress and reporters to say whether the bomb that was dropped was supplied by the United States, and whether the plane that dropped it was refueled by the U.S. military under an ongoing support operation.

The administration’s response has amounted to a shrug. When journalists questioned a senior U.S. official this week, he responded: “Well, what difference does that make?”

The obvious answer is, a big one. If it assisted in an airstrike that killed innocent civilians — the boys, according to the New York Times, ranged in age from 6 to about 16 — the United States is complicit in a probable war crime. And the Dahyan bombing was not an isolated incident. Previous airstrikes have hit weddings, funerals and food markets. Thousands of civilians have been killed since the Saudis and their allies launched their intervention in April 2015. As a letter to the Defense Department from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) put it, “U.S. refueling, operational support functions, and weapons transfers could qualify as aiding and abetting these potential war crimes.”

Millions are at risk of starvation across Africa and Yemen, but Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah says we're too distracted by President Trump to notice. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome, Karen Attiah, Malcolm Cook/The Washington Post)

Like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration has tried to keep its distance from the Saudi campaign while simultaneously supporting it through the sales of bombs, targeting intelligence and refueling for planes. Meanwhile, a promised cakewalk — the Saudis and their United Arab Emirates allies promised to quickly defeat Houthi rebels who had driven a Saudi-backed government out of the capital — has turned into a quagmire. The tangible result has been tens of thousands of deaths and what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 8 million people on the brink of famine and more than 1 million infected with cholera.

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It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war. There is a clear path out: A U.N. mediator has called the various parties to Geneva early next month to discuss a peace process. Among the first steps would be a cease-fire, along with the transfer to U.N. control of the Houthi-held port of Hodeida, through which flows 70 percent of Yemen’s food and aid supplies. U.N. sources say the Houthis, who have the support of Iran, are ready to strike these accords, but the Saudi and UAE regimes have been resistant.

The U.S. allies will accept a peace process only if it is clear that they will not have Washington’s support for more war. Because President Trump remains in thrall to the Saudi princes, it’s fortunate that Congress has applied some pressure. Amendments added to the defense authorization bill that Mr. Trump signed this week require the Pentagon to investigate whether U.S.-backed air operations resulted in violations of human rights. The bill conditions further military support on a State Department certification that the Saudi coalition is working to prevent civilian deaths. The Dahyan bombing should make such certification unthinkable.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The world’s worst humanitarian crisis could get even worse

Letters to the Editor: Instead of participating in war, we must work to bring peace in Yemen

Editorial Board: Can Congress push the Saudi prince toward an exit from Yemen?

David Ignatius: The brutal war in Yemen may be moving toward a tipping point

Letters to the Editor: The Houthis are the main obstacle to peace in Yemen