Mattis Supports Riyadh's Refusal of US Refuelling of Coalition Aircraft in Yemen

Hugh Fox
November 11, 2018

Abu Dhabi´s Prince Mohammed bin Zayed led a "top-level delegation" to Riyadh, the official Saudi press agency said in a brief statement, after the U.S. halted a controversial refuelling arrangement for coalition air craft engaged in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, in a statement released by its embassy in Washington on Friday (local time), said it had chose to request an end to USA aerial refuelling for its operations in Yemen because it could now handle it by itself.

"Recently the Kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen", the SPA said.

Medics in the Red Sea city reported 43 Houthi rebels and nine loyalists killed in clashes over the past 24 hours.

Troops entered residential areas in eastern Hodeidah with the aim of "purging them of insurgents", a pro-government military official said.

The move, announced by the coalition on Saturday and confirmed by Washington, comes at a time when Riyadh, already under scrutiny for civilian deaths in Yemen air strikes, is facing global furore and potential sanctions over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate on October 2.

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Beyond refueling, the United States provides limited intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition and sells it weaponry used in Yemen's war. The Saudi-led blockade of the port city of Hodeidah threatens to make things worse, as it is the entry point for most of the country's food aid and medical supplies.

The coalition's request came amid the backdrop of USA media reports that Washington planned to cease its refuelling support to the coalition amid mounting criticism of the devastating Yemeni conflict, raging since 2015, and the killing of Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

The United Nations has put the civilian death toll at 23 and has said that about 445,000 civilians have been internally displaced.

A USA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington supported the Saudi decision.

Yemeni pro-government forces said Wednesday they had advanced closer to the rebel-held port city of Hodeida after fierce battles that have killed almost 200 fighters in the past week. Global aid agencies warn any disruption to the port could sever that crucial lifeline.

Also on Saturday, Saudi Arabia sought to project the decision to end in-flight refuelling as its own, not Washington's.

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The Pentagon has provided refueling capabilities for about 20 percent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has certainly put more of a spotlight on the actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen", she told Al Jazeera.

"We are all focused on supporting resolution of the conflict, led by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths", Mattis said in a statement.

That appeal came just days after the United States, in a significant shift, piled pressure on its Saudi ally to end the war by calling for a ceasefire and peace talks.

Hodeida, one of the last Huthi strongholds on Yemen's western coast, was seized by the rebels along with the capital Sanaa in 2014.

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