In a move that may quieten some of the criticism the US has endured at home and abroad over its involvement in Saudi Arabia’s brutal assault on rebel forces in Yemen, Riyadh said on Saturday that its coalition had canceled an arrangement with the US for refueling of its warplanes bombing the neighboring country.
The move came as the Saudi-led coalition’s warplanes pounded the key strategic port city of Hodeida and after Washington’s support for the campaign was placed under increased scrutiny following the brazen murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi intelligence team.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he supported Saudi Arabia’s “decision” after the official Saudi Press Agency said the coalition had asked for the “cessation of inflight refueling support” from the United States, Agence France-Presse reported.
The war in Yemen has caused growing international outcry, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition air strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.
The SPA said the coalition had “increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen,” and therefore had asked for cessation of US refueling support “in consultation with the United States.”
In August Mattis warned that US support for the coalition was “not unconditional,” noting that it must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.”
The Pentagon had provided refueling capabilities for about 20% of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.
Nearly 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in the conflict since 2015, according to the World Health Organization. Some human-rights groups say the real death toll may be much higher.
United Nations agencies say some 14 million people are at risk of famine in the country.
The US sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally, especially in terms of providing a counter to Iranian influence in the region.
– With reporting by AFP