US to halt refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft


Critics of the Saudi campaign - including Democrats, who won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections this week - have long questioned USA involvement in the war, which has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and led to widespread starvation in Yemen since it began in 2015.

David Miliband, who is a former British foreign secretary and member of parliament, said while the journalist's death was tragic, worldwide focus on Khashoggi's murder should be switched to actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, where millions of lives are affected.

"I've been calling for this for over three years", said Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California.

The US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, has voiced support for the Saudi decision to end US aerial refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft engaged in Yemen's war and said it was taken in consultation with the US government.

"From everything that I've understood, from activists on the ground, from people who are briefed on policy, the war could not continue without the assistance of United States refueling", he said.

The killing of Khashoggi triggered an escalation of criticism against Saudi authorities.

A coordinated decision by Washington and Riyadh to halt the refuelling could be an attempt by both countries to forestall further action by Congress. "If the administration does not take immediate steps. we are prepared to take additionalaction when the Senate comes back into session", Young and Shaheen said.

"Recently, the Kingdom and the Coalition increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refuelling in Yemen".

In Friday's statement, he said, "The US will also continue working with the Coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country".

In August, Mattis warned that United States support for the coalition was "not unconditional", urging it to do "everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life".

Mattis argued that halting USA military support could increase civilian casualties, since USA refueling had given pilots more time to select their targets.

He told them cutting off support could jeopardise cooperation on counter-terrorism and reduce American influence with Saudi Arabia.

"I'm glad that the Trump administration is ending United States refueling of Saudi aircraft in Yemen's devastating war..."

The decision came after a request from the coalition members for a cessation of USA refueling as they have increased their own independent capabilities to refuel aircraft inflight, the coalition said.

In recent weeks, Mr Mattis has appeared to voice a growing sense of urgency toward ending the conflict.

The push against the Iran-backed rebels also known as Houthis who are holding Hudaida began anew this month, shortly after the United States called for a ceasefire by the end of the month.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of targeting hospitals, water infrastructure, and other civilian targets, and raids on wedding parties and the recent bombing of a school bus have sparked worldwide condemnation.