The decision to stop refueling supply aircraft from Saudi Arabia and its allies bombing rebels in Yemen was hailed on Friday by Democrats and other long-standing supporters to limit the Pentagon's support to that who consider an illegal use of American forces that contributed to a humanitarian disaster.
But they also asked President Donald Trump and members of Congress to take further steps – including cutting arms and ending targeting information-to further extort the US military from involvement in the civil war. of Yemen.
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Last Friday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis upheld the decision in a statement saying "we support the decision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US government, to use the Coalition's military capabilities to conduct the refueling in support of its operations in Yemen. "
The move, for the first time reported by the Washington Post, was hailed as a positive step by those who urged the Trump administration to cut the Saudis and its allies in the conflict, including the United Arab Emirates.
"Finally finishing the supply missions for Saudi bombers, the Trump administration admits that our joint operation in Yemen was a disaster," said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Relations Committee. ester.
Also calling the "an important victory" move, representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), a supporter of the release of US military support to the Saudi-led coalition, said Congress must also approve a resolution that "guarantees the involvement of all the United States "is off. "
The Saudi government issued its statement insisting that it had requested the interruption of refueling operations now that it developed the ability to supply its own fighter by itself.
"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the member countries of the Coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen are continually seeking improvements in military professionalism and self-sufficiency," reads the statement. "Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its ability to autonomously refuel in Yemen and as a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested the cessation of in-flight refueling support for its operations. in Yemen ".
From 2015, the U.S.A. aerial tankers they provided the mid-air supply of some of the Saudi-led coalition attack aircraft attacking the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which are supported by Iran.
Some of these attacks have been accused of civilian death, including a highly publicized bombing of a bus during the summer.
"The coalition led by Saudi Arabia in support of the internationally recognized Yemeni government continued to bomb civilian infrastructure and carried out indiscriminate attacks, killing and wounding civilians," Amnesty International said in a recent report.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported thousands of civilians killed in the conflict and millions of displaced. It has also fueled the spread of cholera and other diseases due to the destruction of what was already a very poor infrastructure.
Previously the Pentagon claimed that by providing fuel supplies and providing intelligence support it was helping to ensure that the attacks were more accurate and that civilian deaths were kept to a minimum.
Mattis said in August that US military support was "not unconditional", but he also insisted that the Saudi army was taking due precautions and following the new procedures after undergoing an American training.
"The training we gave them we know has paid off," Mattis told reporters. "We have had pilots in the air who recognize the danger of a specific mission and have refused to fall even when they have obtained authority, we have seen procedures for personnel who place fire-fighting areas in areas where there are hospitals or "schools.
Last week, Mattis also called for a ceasefire to enter into force this month, stating that "the Saudis and the emirates are ready" and blaming the houthi for the failure of past negotiations.
Some experts have suggested Friday that the Trump administration is also trying to avoid growing criticism regarding its intimate relations with the Saudi monarchy and the expectation that a new Democratic majority in the House in January could force its hand.
The largest relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was also indicted after the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month in the consulate of Riyadh in Istanbul, Turkey.
Congressional critics have called on the White House to pull the plug from a $ 110 billion deal to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
"It's being part of the administration's efforts to push Congress forward against Saudi arms sales and other operational support," said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who he consulted with the Saudi-led coalition. his campaign in Yemen against both the uprising of Houthi and the militant groups affiliated to Al Qaeda.
"It is clear that the administration decided to end the supply because it saw the writing on the wall and wanted to save face before Congress could vote to cut US support for the coalition," he added. Kate Kiszer, director of the progressive defense group of foreign policy Win Without Guerra.
The practical effect of the new move is probably limited. The United States provided only 10% of the fuel supply support to the air campaign, according to Knights.
It could still reduce civilian casualties.
"The removal of such support will not end the war," he explained, "but it could make it more difficult for Saudi Arabia to place aircraft on the Yemeni capital."
This is the part of the country, he noted, where the Saudis undertook some of their most controversial strikes, even against the rebels in movement.
The decision was seen by many critics of the US role to date as a significant breakthrough.
"For years, the United States has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and offered targeted assistance and refueling when American-made bombs were sent to kill thousands of innocent people, including children," Murphy said in his statement. "The United States has radicalized entire generations because there was an American footprint on every civilian killed there."
We need to do more, he insisted. "Why are we still helping the Saudis with targeting?" He asked. "Why are we still selling the bombs at a discount?
Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, an anti-war group, also credited the Trump administration for taking action, but expressed hope that it will lead to the US extorting it completely from the conflict if a solution can not be reached peaceful.
"This is an important step, but it is not the end of the struggle to end the US's support for the war and to end the war itself," he said in a statement.
Like others, he invited Congress to play a more active role.
"Congress must pass resolutions of Yemen's war powers to bind the administration to this policy change, end other forms of US support for war and claim its constitutional authority on the issue of war," he said. Martin. "This war was illegal from the beginning, and it is time for Congress to get up and say so."
Defense Priorities, a think tank funded by the conservative Charles Koch Foundation, which supports a less interventionist foreign policy, has also shot President Barack Obama to support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
"US military support for this conflict is something that President Obama should never have started," said Benjamin Friedman, a senior researcher of defense priorities. The campaign "is a humanitarian disaster that does nothing to advance the security of the United States, if anything it weakens it".
He also said that the arrest of the US supply of Saudi jets should only be the beginning.
"The United States should end the other forms of intelligence and logistical support provided to the Saudis, including arms sales that help their bombing campaign," Friedman said.
Mattis, in his statement on Friday, reiterated the need to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
"We are all focused on supporting conflict resolution," he said. "The United States and the Coalition are planning to work together to build legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, protect their country's borders and help counter the efforts of Al Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen and the region."
"The United States will continue to work with the Coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts across the country," added Mattis, calling on all parties to "support ongoing UN efforts. on this new phase in Yemen ".
The Saudi government has insisted that Friday is seeking the same result, through a new attempt to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2216, adopted in 2015. This effort to end the conflict peacefully has not yet yielded results.
"The Coalition Command expresses its hope," said the Saudi statement, "that the upcoming negotiations sponsored by the UN in a third country will lead to a negotiated solution in accordance with UNSCR 2216 and see the end of Aggression of Houthi militias supported by Iran "against the Yemeni people and the countries of the region".