TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Citing human rights concerns, a bipartisan committee in the US House of Representatives has called for the US military to stop lending crucial support to the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen. The widely condemned Saudi intervention into the Yemeni Civil War has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians.
The primary way the US has supported the Saudi-led coalition’s incursion has been refueling missions flown by the US Air Force that allow their Saudi counterparts to continue a campaign of airstrikes in their southern neighbor. The new bill, House Congressional Resolution 81, would bar the US military from participating in any military action, including support for any side, in the Yemeni Civil War except operations against the powerful Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Resolution 81 “in no way restricts our military counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen,” Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill, told Military.com. “All the bill basically does is say we should not be assisting Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”
The bill has attracted 30 House co-sponsors, including Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), as well as prominent Republicans such as Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) and Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), Khanna’s co-sponsor. Congress has not authorized any US military action in Yemen against anyone but AQAP.
Military.com asked if the bill could damage the US’ relationship with Riyadh or other members of the Saudi coalition, such as their main partner the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Khanna denied such a possibility. “They need us far more than we need them,” he said. “They’re not going to tell the United States what to do.”
“[The Saudis] need to assist us in the fight against terrorism, because it’s the right thing to do, and they have no right to extract a price from the United States for going after terrorism,” Khana added. “What my concern is, is that we need to reorient our foreign policy and not have an alliance with Saudi Arabia. But I have great admiration and great confidence in our military [in counter-terrorism operations], and I think our military can achieve those goals against [Daesh] and in Yemen.”
He also argued that the US didn’t really care who won the civil war between the Saudi-backed government of Abrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his rivals, the primarily Houthi rebel groups who have a rocky alliance with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. “We don’t have any stake, in my view, in whether the Houthis are in power in Yemen — it’s not in our national security interest,” Khanna said.
Although the fighting continues to rage in Yemen, the war has entered a stalemate. Riyadh has been bombing and besieging the Houthi capital of Sana’a for over two years, but the city has yet to capitulate, despite many reports of extremely inhumane conditions faced by the residents. An estimated 14,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting, although it isn’t clear how many of them died as a result of coalition activity. The Saudi blockade of Sana’a has also led to the worst outbreak of cholera in modern that has diseased over 800,000 people and killed around 2,100.
These atrocities are an “obscene reality occurring in the Middle East’s poorest country, Yemen, at the hands of the region’s richest, Saudi Arabia, with unyielding United States military support that Congress has not authorized and that therefore violates the Constitution,” Khanna wrote alongside Jones and Pocan in a New York Times op-ed that went up on Tuesday. “We believe that the American people, if presented with the facts of this conflict, will oppose the use of their tax dollars to bomb and starve civilians.”
The US has flown a reported 2,363 refueling sorties in East Africa as part of Operation Enduring Freedom — Horn of Africa, a military operation to support African and Middle Eastern countries in their battles against Islamic militant groups such as Daesh, al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda. These missions have offloaded 80 million pounds of fuel to 10,400 aircraft since April 2015.
A statement from Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) spokesman Capt. Jose Davis said that USAF does “not have the ability to break out this data just for the Saudi coalition jets in Yemen because our database does not break down details on each receiv[ing aircraft].”
AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan told reporters in September that the US military’s involvement is limited to refueling Saudi aircraft. “Yes, we still provide tankers. Yes, we still have airmen in the Saudi [air operations center]. But I want to be very clear on this: We do not provide [or] advise on targeting,” Harrigan said at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
“What we have those airmen doing down there is basically assuring that any sorties that we would have in and around Yemen are deconflicted from what the Saudi-led coalition is flying.”
Against AQAP, the US is willing to use military force — including, on two occasions since the civil war began, putting boots on the ground. The January Yakla raid was a disaster, killing dozens of civilians as well as one US Navy SEAL, for no tangible intelligence gains. The May Al Hathla raid was quiet but more successful, reportedly killing seven AQAP militants in a training camp.