The United States will end its mission to re-fuel Saudi Arabia’s military aircraft in Yemen, according to several American officials.
A Senate staffer said the decision is a means to pre-empt a potentially damaging debate and vote in Congress. The climate on Capital Hill has turned hostile against Saudi Arabia because of the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen. Some GOP lawmakers who previously opposed suspending refueling now favor the move.
Saudi Arabia said in a statement carried by state-run media, that “in consultation with the United States” it has requested the end of in-flight refueling, placing the decision for the change on Riyadh rather than Washington.
“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,” the Saudi statement said.
The U.S. military was re-fueling about 20 percent of all Saudi aircraft that fly as part of the operation in Yemen. But the U.S. will not end intelligence sharing with the coalition, and will continue “limited intelligence support in defense of Saudi Arabia,” a defense official said.
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s partner in the coalition fighting in Yemen, is also seeking ways to curtail its role in the fight in Yemen.
Emiratis have asked the White House administration for help winding down their presence in Yemen.
The U.S. maintains that Houthi rebels in Yemen do threaten Saudi Arabia. America also believes Iran is supplying the Houthis with missiles.
Late last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an end to the fighting.
“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV(unmanned aerial vehicle) strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Pompeo said.
“Subsequently, coalition airstrikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen,” he added.
The New York Times reported Friday that the Trump administration is also looking to impose sanctions against individuals linked to the Khashoggi killing in an apparent bid to halt congressional action.