By Stefan M. Kløvning
National Security – Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis confirmed Pentagon’s decision to halt further refueling warplanes to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The move has been lauded by opponents of the Yemeni Civil War fueled by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition starting in 2015, where weaponry supplied by the United States have been used to target civilians as late as August this year. Forty children and eleven adults were killed as the U.S.-supplied bomb to Saudi Arabia hit a Yemeni school bus. From here on, according to Mattis, they must “use the Coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct inflight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen.” The reactions and actions by the United States government to the activities of Saudi Arabia, however, has come only after Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government, was brutally murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Turkey on 2. October as he was trying to get a document so he could marry his financée.
Opponents of Saudi Arabia see the aircraft halt to be a good step in the right direction, but also call for further reductions in the supply of arms and ending sharing targeted information to further disassociate the U.S. military from the conflict in Yemen. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of the first members to stand out in opposition against U.S. backing of the Saudi-led coalition, asserted that “By finally ending refueling missions for Saudi bombers, the Trump administration is admitting our joint operation in Yemen has been a disaster.” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) further called the move a “major victory”, and called for Congress to pass a resolution to “ensure that all U.S. involvement is shut off.”
The Saudi government, however, claimed that it had requested the halt themselves as the coalition had developed the ability to resupply more warplanes themselves. According to a public statement,
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the member countries of the Coalition to Support legitimacy in Yemen, continually pursue improvements to military professionalism and self-sufficiency. Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen. As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for it’s operations in Yemen.
That the Saudis and their coalition may be becoming self-sufficient could appear concerning for those who worry about the future of Yemen, but from what the coalition’s opponents can do, the goal is to fully exclude the United States from the conflict. Senator Murphy said further that
For years, the United States has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and offered targeting and refueling assistance as American-made bombs were sent to kill thousands of innocent people, including children. The U.S. has radicalized entire generations because there was an American imprint on every civilian murdered there.
Why are we still helping the Saudis with targeting? Why are we still selling them the bombs at a discount?
A senior scholar at the think tank Defense Priorities, Benjamin Friedman, pointed blame to former president Barack Obama for having started the military support of the Saudi-led coalition and said that the campaign “is a humanitarian disaster that does nothing to advance U.S. security—if anything it undermines it. The United States should end the other forms of intelligence and logistical support provided to the Saudis, including the arms sales aiding their bombing campaign.”
In his statement on Friday, Jim Mattis proclaimed that it was necessary to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
We are all focused on supporting resolution of the conflict. The U.S. and the Coalition are planning to collaborate on building up legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country’s borders, and contribute to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS efforts in Yemen and the region. The U.S. will also continue working with the Coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country.
He also called for all parties to “support the United Nations’ ongoing efforts on this new phase in Yemen.” The Saudis claimed they were seeking the same outcome.
The Coalition Command expresses its hope that the upcoming UN sponsored negotiations in a third country will lead to a negotiated settlement in accordance to UNSCR 2216 and see an end to the aggression by the Iranian backed Houthi militias’ against the Yemeni people and countries in the region.