US Set for Aerial Refueling of Arab Coalition Warplanes in Yemen

U.S. tankers were on standby but have yet to begin aerial refueling of Arab coalition warplanes in attacks on Yemeni rebels threatening to overrun the city of Aden, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The refueling effort, which was approved last week, was intended as another show of support for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar in their attempt to rally the remnants of Yemeni government forces clustered in Aden.

The Sunni-ruled Gulf states have been seeking to re-install Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country last month as the mostly Shia Houthi rebels advanced.

The refueling by U.S. tanker aircraft – when it begins – will not take place over Yemeni territory, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Last month, the U.S. withdrew its counter-terror troops from Yemen in the face of gains by Houthi rebels backed by Iran. The U.S. has since set up a "fusion” center with a small number of personnel in the region to provide intelligence and logistics support to the Gulf States.

Warren said the fusion center was not providing targeting information to the Gulf states. He declined to say whether the U.S. was still conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drone flights over Yemen.

China, India, Pakistan and other nations have been scrambling to evacuate their nationals from Yemen by air and sea. Warren said the military was positioned to evacuate U.S. citizens with ships in the Red Sea but had not yet received tasking from the State Department.

With U.S. counter-terror operations hampered by the withdrawal of forces, the Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took advantage last week to raid a prison in eastern Yemen to free more than 200 inmates.

Warren said the U.S. was seeking to determine whether former prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility had been freed in the raid.

The air attacks by Saudi and other Gulf states began March 26 but appeared to have little effect to date on halting the Houthi advance against Aden.

However, southern Yemeni militias backed by Saudi-led airstrikes reportedly had halted and driven back Houthi forces in several provinces, according to Reuters.

The fighting reportedly has killed hundreds and led to warnings of a humanitarian disaster from United Nations relief agencies.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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