The Yemen Peace Project welcomes the statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the United States will end in-flight refueling of Saudi planes conducting aerial missions in Yemen. The statement marks a first, though insufficient, step toward ending US complicity in the Saudi-led coalition’s numerous war crimes in Yemen.
The wording of the secretary’s statement, however, necessitates further skepticism of the administration’s overarching strategy (assuming one exists) to wind down the conflict in Yemen and prevent a historic famine. Instead of framing the cessation of this support as a means of rebuking the coalition for its IHL violations and pushing its member states to adhere to UN-mediated confidence-building measures, Secretary Mattis was at pains to clarify that the decision to end refueling was made at the Saudi government’s request and that it would not have a detrimental effect on the coalition’s military capabilities. As ever, the administration is more concerned about finding ways for its Saudi allies to save face than protecting Yemeni civilians from harm.
Additionally, while the end of refueling support is long overdue, its importance relative to the balance of US support for the coalition’s intervention has been decreasing. According to US Central Command’s self-reported refueling statistics, refueling sorties have declined significantly in 2018. Of the 92.3 million pounds of fuel delivered to the coalition in the Horn of Africa region from March 2015 through August 2018, 88 million were delivered before January 2018. US munitions transfers, targeting assistance, and maintenance of coalition fighter jets and weapons systems remain immediate enablers of strikes targeting civilians, and US diplomatic cover, particularly at the UN Security Council, continues to sabotage the international community’s efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and push all parties towards a cessation of hostilities.
Despite these red flags, the end of refueling assistance is a sign that, though this administration is unwilling to create conditions for peace or act to end the humanitarian crisis, concerted efforts from Congress and the general public can drag it toward a more just policy. These efforts will have to be redoubled in the coming months if Yemen is to avoid the worst famine in a century. The YPP will continue to work with members of Congress to demonstrate to the administration that we will not allow this deadly status quo to continue, including by passing H.Con.Res. 138 in the House of Representatives, passing S.J.Res. 54 in the Senate, and blocking future arms sales to the coalition until the conflict is resolved.