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US Will Keep Refueling Saudi Coalition Warplanes -- for Now

A KC-135 from the 927th Air Refueling Wing from MacDill Air Force Base, Fl fuels a B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Lawmakers have wanted to curtail the Air Force’s ability to refuel Saudi-led coalition jets striking Yemen. (Air Force Photo/Will Bracy)
A KC-135 from the 927th Air Refueling Wing from MacDill Air Force Base, Fl fuels a B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Lawmakers have wanted to curtail the Air Force’s ability to refuel Saudi-led coalition jets striking Yemen. (Air Force Photo/Will Bracy)

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday voted to adopt a nonbinding measure that urges forces involved in the years-long Yemen conflict to work toward a political solution -- but does not call for an end to America's assistance in the war.

The resolution, House Resolution 599, passed by a vote of 366-30 as a compromise measure for a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had sought to mandate the U.S. end its involvement in the Yemen conflict except for operations directed at al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

The U.S. Air Force provides refueling operations for the Saudi-led coalition aircraft striking Yemen.  

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The resolution, which denounces the targeting civilian populations in Yemen, notes that the U.S. military's role, however, is not covered by previous legislation for counterterrorism operations and the invasion of Iraq.

"[T]o date, Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to" the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force or "the [2003] Authorization of Use of Military Force in Iraq," the measure states.

It "supports the Saudi-led Arab Coalition's commitments to abide by their no-strike list and restricted target list and improve their targeting capabilities."

A previous measure, House Congressional Resolution 81, criticized Saudi's targeting practices altogether.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, on Sept. 27 introduced that measure as part of an effort to remove the U.S. military's role in Yemen before becoming more complicit in Saudi's war.  

The bill "in no way restricts our military counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen," Khanna said in a telephone interview with Military.com last month. "All the bill basically does is say we should not be assisting Saudi Arabia in Yemen."

The House bill outlined removing "targeting assistance" provided by the U.S. to the Saudis.

The U.S., Khanna said, has a "much higher standard" when it comes to precision targeting to avoid or minimize civilian casualties -- something to which Saudi Arabia may not necessarily adhere.

"We comply with human rights [advocacy] in a way the Saudi regime does not," he said.

U.S. Central Command officials in previous months have said the U.S. does not provide targeting intel to Saudi jets striking Houthi sites.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters during the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference in September the U.S. does not have "the mandate to do that or the authorities to do that."

"Yes, we still provide tankers. Yes, we still have airmen in the Saudi [air operations center]. But I want to be very clear on this: We do not provide and advise on targeting," Harrigian said at the time.

Khanna's resolution explored whether Congress could invoke the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to force the U.S. to end its involvement in the Saudi-led conflict within 30 days of passage, unless voted upon otherwise.

The measure, which had had 30 members of the House as co-sponsors, entered negotiations, but stalled. It was supposed to go to a vote on Nov. 2.  

The war first made headlines in spring 2015, when Houthi rebels -- anti-government fighters aligned with ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh -- were dislodged from their position near the port city of Aden by the coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Kuwait.

The coalition included Qatar before the Gulf Cooperation Council diplomatic crisis earlier this year.

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