United States welcomes Saudi's 'decision' to independently refuel planes engaged in Yemen war

President Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March

President Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March

Mattis argued that halting US military support could increase civilian casualties, since USA refueling had given pilots more time to select their targets.

Saudi Arabia, in its statement, said its coalition was hopeful that UN-sponsored negotiations would lead to a negotiated settlement and "an end to the aggression by the Iranian backed Houthi militias' against the Yemeni people and countries in the region".

As a result, the decision to halt the USA refueling will likely have little impact on the fight, but will allow the Trump administration to say it has taken action against the Saudis for the devastation in Yemen.

The Saudi Press agency released a statement on Saturday explaining that the coalition was able to "increase their capacity" for refueling their aircraft and would do so independently going forward.

The move also came at a time when Riyadh is facing global outrage over the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Members of Congress have been calling for the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other action. The Post first reported the Trump administration's desire to end the refuelling. US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Senate staffers were asked about the issue Thursday and whether their bosses would support it.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis backed the decision and said the US Government was consulted.

It wasn't immediately clear what impact the US withdrawal from air refuelling operations would have.

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Anti-war groups hailed the decision as a victory and called for the U.S.to go further in halting support for the campaign.

A halt to refueling could have little practical effect on the war. "As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of support for it's operations in Yemen", the SPA said. He said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were taking adequate measures to minimize civilian deaths.

"We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia", Mattis said, adding that the United States will continue to work to minimise civilian casualties.

The coalition has come under heavy criticism for its relentless airstrikes since 2015, which United Nations experts say have caused the majority of the estimated 10,000 civilian deaths in the conflict and could constitute a war crime. It said that the coalition, which relies heavily on air power, has killed scores of civilians in recent airstrikes, and rebels are responding with mortars in residential neighborhoods that cause indiscriminate casualties.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended US military support to Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, when lawmakers weighed forcing the Pentagon to end Washington's involvement in the conflict.

Yet even with that refuelling support, Saudi Arabia has faced widespread worldwide criticism over its campaign of airstrikes in the coalition's war in Yemen, targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis who hold the capital, Sanaa.

In the last month, the UAE has mounted an all-out offensive to capture the critical Yemeni port of Hodeida.

According to Saudi-owned al-Arabiya al-Hadath television channel, Riyadh has 23 aircraft that can be used for refuelling, including six Airbus 330 MRTT which are used for the Yemen conflict. Human rights groups have found fragments of American-made munitions after several of these strikes.

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