U.S. weighs more aid to Saudis in dire fight with Yem­ini rebels

Civil­ian ca­su­al­ties on rise

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY ROBERT BURNS

RIYADH, SAUDI ARA­BIA | The Pen­tagon is con­sid­er­ing ways to boost mil­i­tary sup­port for the Saudi-led fight against Iran­backed rebels in Ye­men, be­liev­ing mil­i­tary pressure is needed to prod the mil­i­tants into a ne­go­ti­ated end to the con­flict, U.S. of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion al­ready is help­ing the Saudis by pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence and aerial re­fu­el­ing of their com­bat air­craft. But the coali­tion, which also in­cludes the United Arab Emi­rates, has failed to de­feat the rebels known as the Houthis. The rebels seized the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, and much of their homeland north­ern Ye­men in 2014.

In­ter­na­tional calls for an end to the con­flict are in­ten­si­fy­ing amid ris­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. Health groups warn the Arab world’s poor­est coun­try is on the brink of famine.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing how to help the Saudis ad­vance their cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, who briefed re­porters on con­di­tion they not be quoted by name. The as­sis­tance could in­volve more in­tel­li­gence sup­port but won’t in­clude a com­mit­ment of U.S. ground troops, they said, adding that any moves would re­flect the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to ag­gres­sively counter what it sees as Iran’s ma­lign in­flu­ence across the re­gion.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, who met King Sal­man and other top Saudi of­fi­cials Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, has com­plained about Iran send­ing mis­siles to the Houthis, who’ve then used them to fire across the Ye­men’s bor­der into Saudi Ara­bia.

“Ev­ery­where you look, if there’s trou­ble in the re­gion, you find Iran,” Mr. Mat­tis said af­ter his meet­ings Wed­nes­day. “So right now what we’re see­ing is the na­tions in the re­gion and oth­ers else­where try­ing to check­mate Iran and the amount of dis­rup­tion and in­sta­bil­ity they can cause.”

Be­fore vis­it­ing Riyadh, Mr. Mat­tis said the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal in Ye­men was to help ar­range a United Na­tions-bro­kered peace ne­go­ti­a­tion.

The war has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civil­ians and led to the dis­place­ment of some 3 mil­lion Ye­me­nis. Dozens of Saudi sol­diers have been killed in cross-bor­der at­tacks from Ye­men.

Last month the U.N. spe­cial en­voy for Ye­men, Is­mail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, warned that hu­man­i­tar­ian and eco­nomic con­di­tions were rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. He urged the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to pressure Ye­men’s govern­ment and Houthi rebels into end­ing the war and cre­at­ing a tran­si­tional govern­ment. Speak­ing to the coun­cil on March 29, Mr. Ahmed said “fur­ther mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion and hu­man­i­tar­ian suf­fer­ing will not bring the par­ties closer to­gether.”

There have even been move­ments in both the House and Se­nate ques­tion­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to strongly back Saudi Ara­bia in the war. A re­cent Se­nate bill called for a halt in U.S. ship­ments of weaponry to Riyadh un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion could cer­tify that the king­dom is tak­ing pre­cau­tions to avoid civil­ian deaths in Ye­men and aid­ing the flow of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.

A prospec­tive coali­tion at­tack on the Houthi-held port of Hoe­dida, Ye­men, has been put off amid con­cern it would cut off in­ter­na­tional re­lief sup­plies. U.S. of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day work is un­der­way to de­ter­mine how to re­take Hoe­dida with­out hurt­ing aid ef­forts.

The U.S. and Saudi Ara­bia have been se­cu­rity al­lies since 1944. As he met De­fense Min­is­ter Mohammed bin Sal­man, Mr. Mat­tis ap­peared to al­lude to de­te­ri­o­rated re­la­tions dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which spear­headed a seven-na­tion nu­clear deal with Iran that deeply up­set the Saudis.

“We can over­come any past frus­tra­tions,” Mr. Mat­tis said while U.S. jour­nal­ists were in the room.

He said the U.S. would “re­in­force Saudi Ara­bia’s re­sis­tance to Iran’s mis­chief” and sug­gested the pos­si­bil­ity of Pres­i­dent Trump vis­it­ing Saudi Ara­bia.

“We are not leav­ing this re­gion,” Mr. Mat­tis said.

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