US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

Pentagon officials say training received by Saudi pilots has resulted in a significant reduction in civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict. (AFP)
Updated 26 August 2019

US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

  • Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in Yemen war but has apologized for them
  • Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting

CHICAGO: Saudi pilots in the fight to destroy terrorist cells in Yemen have been receiving high-level training by the US military to reduce civilian casualties, Arab News has learned.

The war against the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen began after they toppled the UN-backed government.

The Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes but has apologized for them. Just over a year ago, for example, the Houthis fired missiles at Jazan and other civilian communities in southwest Saudi Arabia. The Saudis responded with airstrikes; one of the missiles accidentally struck a school bus, killing 30 children.

Since then, Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting. Pentagon officials say the training has resulted in a significant reduction in civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

“It’s a difficult challenge … but we believe, and the Saudis agree, that everything needs to be done to protect civilians,” said a senior Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing training.

There has been a marked decrease in civilian casualties ... the Saudis deserve credit for the improvements.

Pentagon official

He added that civilians are often unintended victims of conflicts and efforts to eliminate terrorist threats, especially when militants operate in areas heavily populated by civilians.

The US has been working in different ways to help the Saudis improve some procedures and encourage expedited, transparent assessment of alleged civilian casualties.

“Training has helped them reduce non-combatant casualties. We believe there has been a marked decrease in the number of civilian casualties,” said the Pentagon official.

“The Saudis have been very good partners. They deserve the credit for the improvements and changes.”

Salman Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), commended the US and Saudi militaries for the training.

“As a reliable ally and trusted friend, it’s highly commendable that the US is helping train Saudi pilots in precision and avoiding casualties,” he said.

“This is a true example of positive engagement, and demonstrates the deeply rooted US support for Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It’s true that the Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in the past, but these mistakes have been accounted for and investigated,” Ansari said.


“The training of our pilots … shows that we’re serious about avoiding casualties. The same logic can’t be applied to the Houthis, who deliberately attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia regularly and brag about it.”

 


TIMELINE

Feb. 2012: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh hands over power to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Iran begins to arm Houthi militias.
Sept. 2014: The Houthis launch a nationwide assault, targeting civilians and Yemeni government institutions.
April 2015: Houthis driving Iranian tanks kill 12 civilians in an attack in Aden.
Sept. 2015: The Houthis launch Iranian-supplied Tochka ballistic missiles, killing 60 coalition soldiers.
Dec. 2017: The militias target and kill Saleh near his hometown.
Dec. 19, 2017: The Houthis fire missiles at Riyadh.
June 2019: The militias strike Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, killing at least one civilian and wound nearly 50.
July 2019: The Houthis target Abha airport, injuring nine civilians.
July 2019: The militias ambush Saudi soldiers in Jazan, killing four.
Aug. 2019: The Houthis attack a military graduation ceremony in Aden, killing 36 people, including a commander.


Without disclosing how many Saudis are involved in the training or where it is taking place, the Pentagon official said the program focuses on aspects of military responses to Houthi provocations.

“We’re working with the Saudis on making onsite decisions as to whether strikes should continue,” he added.

“Everything starts with intelligence, doing a better job of gathering intelligence on the battlefield and developing strike targets.”

The official said making positive identification of intended targets is key to protecting civilians.

He added that operations need to ensure that there is a “strong command and control link,” and that forces are not sent “looking for targets” but have a “clear and deliberate chain of command” for the strikes.

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He said it is important for pilots to be able to make decisions themselves during operations, and to be encouraged to provide onsite information that might contradict intelligence used to select targets.

“We want the pilots to feel empowered to not have to strike a target if they feel there’s something wrong or inaccurate,” said the official. “We teach them how important they are to a successful campaign.”

He added that the Saudi pilots are enthusiastic in embracing the strategies and avoiding civilian casualties.

“No one wants to have an accident … on their conscience,” he said. “The pilots are already well trained in flying their aircraft … but we hold seminars to talk to them about the specifics of each of the areas of training.”

Ansari said: “We must always remember the causes of this war, which was forced upon the Saudi-led coalition.”

He added: “It was a war caused by the overthrow of a legitimate UN-backed government at the hands of an Iran-backed militia that prides itself on its ‘Death to America’ slogan, and attacked the US Navy three times during the time of the Obama administration.”

In a recent op-ed for Arab News, Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former intelligence officer, called the Saudi response to the Houthi attacks a “necessary campaign” that is “failing in the public relations arena.”

He wrote that “if it ultimately fails, then Iran will have another Hezbollah in the region — and that’s the goal.”

Pregent added: “The Saudis are going out of their way to show their targeting process is aligned with the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and that they are rushing humanitarian aid in, only for it to be stopped by Iran’s Quds Force and the Tehran-backed Houthis. Few give the Saudis credit for trying to do this right.”


Concerns rise over fake gold in Saudi Arabia

Local gold markets have seen stagnation in recent times, because of the increasing price of gold on international stock markets. (Photo/Shutterstock)
Updated 22 February 2020

Concerns rise over fake gold in Saudi Arabia

  • Accusations fly as pilgrims targeted by sellers of counterfeit precious metal

JEDDAH: A video posted on Twitter by a member of the Precious Metals Committee explaining the ways some gold manufacturers manipulate weight of gold and diamonds has attracted significant attention in Saudi Arabia, raising the question of the authenticity of gold in the Kingdom.

In the video, Mohammed Azooz said cover-ups have made many Saudi gold sellers lose power over the market, and that industry was being controlled by non-Saudis.
In the video, he explained how some people circumvented customs and sneak gold into the country, especially during the Hajj season to target pilgrims.
The Arabic translation of #cheating_in_jewelry has been trending in Twitter for a few days, and several people posted about the issue, blaming those who were selling fake gold to pilgrims as pure gold.
This is not the first time the fake gold issue has been raised. The World Gold Council previously suspended its activities in the Kingdom following claims that some jewelry manufacturers mixed glass with gold. Former Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Zainal rejected the accusations at the time, described them as “grave and dangerous.”
Local gold markets have seen stagnation in recent times, because of the increasing price of gold on international stock markets.

FASTFACTS

• Types of gold depend on the percentage of gold per kilogram. For example, 24k gold, which is considered the best in quality, is 99 percent gold mixed with 1 percent of precious metal such as silver or copper. This type of gold is considered pure, and not used for adornment.

• For a kilogram of 22k gold, 125 grams of precious metals are added to 875 grams of pure gold; 150 grams of precious metals are added to 850 grams to make a kilogram of 21k gold, and 18k gold has 250 grams of precious metals per kilogram.

The price of one kilogram of 24 karat (k) gold in the Kingdom can reach SR185,000 ($46,700).
Gold and economic experts say that the movement in gold prices depends on numerous factors such as political and economic events around the world, the price of the US dollar in banks, black markets, as well as the supply and demand trends in global stock markets.

Types of gold depend on the percentage of gold per kilogram. For example, 24k gold, which is considered the best in quality, is 99 percent gold mixed with 1 percent of precious metal such as silver or copper. This type of gold is considered pure, and not used for adornment.
For a kilogram of 22k gold, 125 grams of precious metals are added to 875 grams of pure gold; 150 grams of precious metals are added to 850 grams to make a kilogram of 21k gold, and 18k gold has 250 grams of precious metals per kilogram.

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The Kingdom has launched an initiative, the first of its kind, authorizing authorities to launch a Shariah-based gold investment fund to enrich investment products through the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul).
Moath Alkhasawneh, CEO and board member of FALCOM Financial Services, said the FALCOM Gold Fund was officially licensed by the Capital Market Authority. The fund aims to add value to Tadawul through a Shariah-based investment fund, as gold trading transactions are considered a good investment and a high-quality commodity with low risks in investment portfolios.
“Gold retains its value compared to banknotes — their value decreases because of inflation. The high demand on gold in light of the shortage of supply can drive the prices of gold higher in the long run,” said Alkhasawneh.
“The gold investment fund focuses on investment in pure and precious gold, and the investment transactions will take place at the Switzerland Gold Market under the supervision of the higher authorities in Switzerland. This will make it safer and more flexible.”