Pentagon to Bill Saudi Arabia, UAE $331 Million for Fuel and Flight Hours

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks with Saudi Army Gen. Abdulrahman bin Saleh Al-Banyan, Chief of the Joint Staff, at King Salman Air Base, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2017. (DoD photo/Brigitte N. Brantley)
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks with Saudi Army Gen. Abdulrahman bin Saleh Al-Banyan, Chief of the Joint Staff, at King Salman Air Base, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2017. (DoD photo/Brigitte N. Brantley)

The U.S. will seek reimbursement for $331 million from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the refueling and flight hours that the U.S. Air Force has provided during the last three years in the Yemen conflict.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, disclosed the request Thursday following a months-long inquiry into how the Defense Department is accounting for fuel and flight hours spent supporting the Saudi-coalition air strikes in Yemen.

Last week, U.S. Central Command, the overseeing body for Middle East operations, found errors in its auditing, according a report in The Atlantic.

"In November, the Pentagon acknowledged that, in response to your letter, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) reviewed its records and found errors in accounting,'" Reed said in a statement.

But "today, after a careful review, the Pentagon announced it will seek full reimbursement of $331 million from Saudi Arabia and UAE for fuel, refueling services and flight hours," Reed said. That amounts to $36.8 million for the flight hours, and $294.3 million for fuel, Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told Defense News.

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Last month, the Saudi government said it had "requested cessation of in-flight refueling" from the U.S. for its fighter jets after The Washington Post reported the Trump administration was planning to stop the refueling over growing political concerns.

But even before the announcement to halt refueling was made on Nov. 10, CENTCOM had started working with Air Forces Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command "to reduce its dynamic requirement for tankers" in the Horn of Africa, Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a CENTCOM spokesman, said.

Jacques told Military.com the coalition would lose "roughly one to two tankers" worth of U.S. fuel per day given the freeze.

"This is good news for U.S. taxpayers and underscores the need for strong oversight of the Department of Defense," Reed said. "The American people should not be forced to bear these costs and I am encouraged DOD is taking steps to get full reimbursement."

The news of the reimbursement comes as the Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military campaign. The vote also included a measure condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Trump administration has faced continued pushback for its continued support of Saudi Arabia in arms sales and intelligence in light of Khashoggi's death. The journalist is believed to have been killed by Saudi operatives at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.

Lawmakers for the last three years have tried a variety of ways to oppose the war -- what many officials around the world have declared a humanitarian crisis.

"While the accounting error is being corrected, the larger issue remains that the Trump Administration and international community must capitalize on the progress that has been made during the Yemen peace talks in Sweden," Reed said.

"The conflict in Yemen has negatively impacted the strategic security interests of the Saudis, Emiratis, and the United States. It has emboldened Iran and relieved pressure on al Qaeda and ISIS," he added. "Most importantly, the conflict has resulted in the largest humanitarian disaster facing the world in recent memory. It is time for this war to stop."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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