Watchdog finds U.S. did not weigh civilian risks when pushing Saudi arms sales


  • World
  • Tuesday, 11 Aug 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of State did not fully evaluate the risk of civilian casualties in Yemen when it pushed through a huge 2019 precision-guided munitions sale to Saudi Arabia, a government watchdog's report said on Tuesday.

"OIG (the State Department Inspector General) found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the Secretary’s May 2019 emergency certification," the report said.

Congress had requested an investigation into the Trump administration's May 2019 decision to push ahead with $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries, sidestepping the congressional review process by declaring an emergency over tensions with Iran.

Lawmakers had blocked some of the sales from concern that the Raytheon smart bombs and other equipment might contribute to the humanitarian catastrophe amid Yemen's civil war.

The report did not take a position on whether the emergency declaration was merited, and said the State Department did not violate the Arms Export Control Act.

A department official had briefed reporters before the report was released, touting that finding. [L1N2FC1YA]

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not sit down for an interview for the report, instead submitting a written statement.

The report noted that State had allowed some smaller sales of precision-guided munitions parts to Saudi Arabia without congressional review, saying they were below the threshold for congressional review.

It also said most of the weapons sales approved under the emergency order had not been delivered, months after the emergency was declared.

The report follows President Donald Trump's abrupt dismissal in May of then-Inspector General Steve Linick, who was conducting the investigation.

Congressional committees are probing his firing - one of a string of dismissals of government watchdogs by Trump that have raised concerns about oversight.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

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