US to stop refueling Saudi planes in Yemen war

James Mattis

James Mattis

The Saudi press agency said: "Recently the Kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen".

Saudi Arabia, in a statement released by its embassy in Washington, said it had made a decision to request an end to USA aerial refueling for its operations in Yemen because it could now handle it by itself.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday that the United States supports Saudi Arabia's "decision" to cease American aerial refueling.

In January 2016, Saudi Arabia said the United States and UK military advisers were in the command and control center for strikes on Yemen and had access to lists of targets.

"As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of support for it's operations in Yemen", the SPA said.

The action comes amid growing congressional anger against Saudi Arabia, a key ally and the country where President Donald Trump made his first visit overseas after taking office.

David Miliband, who is a former British foreign secretary and member of parliament, said while the journalist's death was tragic, worldwide focus on Khashoggi's murder should be switched to actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, where millions of lives are affected. And with the election handing control of the US House to the Democrats, it becomes more likely that some retaliation against Saudi Arabia would gain traction on Capitol Hill. USA officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Senate staffers were asked about the issue Thursday and whether their bosses would support it. "We support the decision by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia", he said.

Since the outbreak of the invasion in 2015, the U.S. military has been refueling Saudi aircraft that conduct airstikes on Yemen.

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Anti-war groups hailed the decision as a victory and called for the USA to go further in halting support for the campaign.

A halt to refueling could have little practical effect on the war.

The United States effectively gave a green light to the Saudi-led offensive when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 12 certified continued American support for the coalition's air campaign against the Houthis.

Aid groups warned of the plight of civilians in Yemen's contested Hodeida where casualties are mounting as a Saudi-led coalition is fighting to take the port city from the country's Shiite rebels.

For its part, the Yemeni government warned from Houthi plots to bomb government buildings and national institutions like the Port of Hodeidah, and terrorist plans of targeting global maritime trade navigation at Bab al-Mandab and the south of the Red Sea, and bombing Safer Oil Tank at Ras Isa Port, which contains almost a million barrel of crude oil and can cause environment and economic catastrophe to Yemen and the regional countries. It said that the coalition, which relies heavily on air power, has killed scores of civilians in recent airstrikes, and rebels are responding with mortars in residential neighborhoods that cause indiscriminate casualties.

In August, Mattis warned that USA support for the coalition was "not unconditional", urging it to do "everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life".

"Why are we still helping the Saudis with targeting?" In the last month, the UAE has mounted an all-out offensive to capture the critical Yemeni port of Hodeida.

The war has plunged Yemen into an increasingly dire humanitarian situation and the threat of starvation is widespread. According to experts, more than 22 million people in are in desperate need in what is already the Arab world's poorest country. The death toll has not been updated in years, however, and is likely to be far higher.

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