US did not fully assess civilian risks when pushing Saudi arms sales-report

The US Department of State did not fully evaluate the risk of civilian casualties when it pushed through a massive sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia last year, 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 more than $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, sidestepping the congressional review process by declaring an “emergency” over tensions with Iran.

Members of Congress blocked some of the sales out of concern that the Raytheon Technologies Corp smart bombs and other equipment might contribute to the heavy civilian toll and humanitarian catastrophe in 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.

READ: Pompeo cleared over US arms sales to Saudi Arabia

It did find that the department had allowed some smaller sales of precision-guided munitions parts to Saudi Arabia without congressional review, even before its May 2019 action, saying they were below the threshold for congressional review.

And it noted that most of the weapons sales approved under the emergency order had not been delivered by the time the investigation began this year.

The report on the Saudi sales is central to 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.