Saudi coalition halts refueling deal with US for Yemen war
DUBAI: A controversial refueling arrangement between the United States and the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen was ended yesterday, halting a key part of Washington’s involvement in the conflict.
The move came as warplanes pounded the key strategic port city of Hodeida and after Washington’s support for the campaign was placed under increased scrutiny following the brazen murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi intelligence team.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said he supported Saudi Arabia’s ‘decision’ after the official Saudi Press Agency said the coalition asked for the ‘cessation of inflight refueling support’ from the United States.
Riyadh’s grinding war in Yemen as caused growing international outcry, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.
“Recently the Kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in
Recently the Kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen. — Saudi Press Agency
Yemen,” the SPA said.
“As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen.”
Mattis said: “We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In August the defence secretary warned that US support for the coalition was ‘not unconditional,’ noting it must do ‘everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.’
The Pentagon had provided refueling capabilities for about 20 per cent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognised by the United Nations, and the Huthis in 2015.
The Shiite Huthi rebels launched fierce barrages of mortar fire as they battled to slow an advance by progovernment forces deeper into the port city of Hodeida, military sources said.
Their chief has vowed his troops would never surrender despite being vastly outnumbered, shelled government positions in the south of the Red Sea city, loyalist officials said.
But despite the ‘intense attacks’, loyalist forces made fresh advances in eastern sectors of Hodeida.
Over one week into the renewed offensive, civilians reported relentless air strikes, low-flying jets and Apache helicopters, mortars and missiles on the outskirts of the city and within five kilometres of its strategic port, the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement. — AFP
Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida. — AFP photo