US defense chief backs Saudi ‘decision’ to halt Yemen refuelling

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Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday that the United States supports Saudi Arabia´s “decision” to cease American aerial refuelling for aircraft from the Riyadh-led coalition involved in the Yemen War.

“We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US Government, to use the Coalition´s own military capabilities to conduct in-flight refuelling in support of its operations in Yemen,” Mattis said in a statement.

The official Saudi Press Agency had earlier said the coalition had asked for the “cessation of in-flight refuelling support” from the United States.

“Recently the Kingdom and the coalition has increased its capacity to independently conduct in-flight refuelling in Yemen,” it said.

The move follows a report in the Washington Post that the US was to end the deal, and comes amid ongoing international outcry over Saudi actions in Yemen, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.

Mattis in August warned that US support for the coalition was “not unconditional,” noting it must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.”

The Pentagon was providing refuelling capabilities for about 20 per cent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.

Mattis last month made a surprise call for a ceasefire in Yemen and urged warring parties to enter negotiations within the next 30 days.

The United Nations has now pushed that deadline back to the end of the year.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognized by the United Nations, and the Huthis in 2015.

Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands at the brink of famine.

International criticism over US support for Saudi Arabia grew further following the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The US sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally, especially in terms of providing a counter to Iranian influence in the region

 

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