Saudi coalition in Yemen ends US refueling
DUBAI (AP) — The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen early yesterday said it had “requested cessation of inflight refueling” by the United States for its fighter jets after American officials said they would stop the operations amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom’s air strikes.
The decision by the US to pull out also comes amid outrage by US lawmakers from both political parties over the Oct. 2 killing of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Saudi acknowledgment, and later US comments, appeared aimed at suggesting the kingdom was behind the decision. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched the Yemen war as the kingdom’s defense minister in March 2015, faces widespread international criticism for the war and after members of his entourage allegedly took part in Khashoggi’s slaying.
“We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US government, to use the coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct inflight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.
“The US will also continue working with the coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country,” he added.
It was not immediately clear what impact the US withdrawal from air refueling operations would have. American officials earlier said Saudi forces now handled some 80 percent of their refueling operations, which crucially allow aircraft to fly longer sorties over possible targets and can ease the pressure for quick strikes.
Yet, even with that refueling support, Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism over its campaign of air strikes in the coalition’s war in Yemen, targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis who hold the capital, Sanaa.
Saudi strikes have hit public markets, hospitals and other nonmilitary targets, killing scores of civilians. One such Saudiled air strike in August in Yemen’s Saada province hit a bus and killed dozens of people, including schoolchildren wearing backpacks.
Human rights groups have found fragments of American-made munitions after several of these strikes.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity on Friday to discuss the decision before its announcement, said the end to refueling would not stop American training and military assistance.
In this file photo, a man stands among the rubble of the Alsonidar Group’s water pump and pipe factory after it was hit by Saudi Arabia-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen.