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Lawmakers circulate 'urgent call' for Mattis to prevent 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive

Lawmakers circulate 'urgent call' for Mattis to prevent 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive
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A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is circulating a letter calling for Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon insists Mattis, Trump 'completely aligned' on leaving arms treaty | Trump 'not satisfied' with Saudi explanation on Khashoggi | Kushner says US still 'fact-finding' A solid budget requires tradeoffs Pentagon: Trump, Mattis 'completely aligned' on Russia arms treaty withdrawal MORE to help prevent a “catastrophic” military operation on a key port in Yemen.

“We urge you to use all available means to avert a catastrophic military assault on Yemen’s major port city of Hodeida by the Saudi-led coalition, and to present Congress with immediate clarification regarding the full scope of U.S. military involvement in that conflict,” said a draft of the letter obtained by The Hill.

“In light of your April 2017 remarks that the war must be resolved ‘politically as soon as possible,’ we urge you to use all tools at your disposal to dissuade the Saudi-led coalition from moving forward with this offensive and reject the provision of U.S. logistical, military and diplomatic support for any such operation.”

The letter is being circulated for signatures by Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanAtheist group argues in court for prayer rights on House floor Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Lawmakers seeking intel on alleged Saudi plot against journalist MORE (D-Wis.), Justin AmashJustin AmashWatchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE (R-Mich.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaTech giant faces crucial decision over Saudi ties GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Silicon Valley tested by Saudi crisis MORE (D-Calif.), Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote House lawmakers introduce bill to end US support in Yemen civil war Rand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy MORE (R-Ky.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeWorking together to improve diversity and inclusion The Hill's Morning Report — How will the Kavanaugh saga impact the midterms? Live coverage: Senate Judiciary to vote on Kavanaugh confirmation MORE (D-Calif.), Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Kavanaugh accuser Ford offers gripping testimony | Sights and sounds from Capitol | Hearing grips Washington Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote MORE (R-N.C.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).

The letter comes after the United Nations and humanitarian groups reported over the weekend that they were warned by the United Arab Emirates to evacuate the Yemeni port city of Hodeida by Tuesday. The city is controlled by Houthi rebels who are fighting a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and the coalition believes the port has been key to the rebels smuggling in arms.

Humanitarian groups and experts have warned that an offensive on Hodeida, through which 80 percent of Yemen’s aid comes, could devastate the already war-ravaged country. The United Nations said Friday the worst-case scenario is 250,000 civilians killed in the assault.

The House lawmakers are asking their colleagues to join their “urgent call” to Mattis in light of the potential Hodeida offensive.

“U.S. involvement in the Saudi-UAE-led war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels has been shielded from public scrutiny and congressional oversight,” they wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter asking for signatures.

The United States supports the Saudi campaign with billions of dollars in arms sales, intelligence sharing and logistics such as air refueling. The New York Times also reported last month that Army Green Berets are at Saudi Arabia’s border helping find and destroy Houthi missile launchers.

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have gotten increasingly frustrated at the Saudi campaign as the civilian death toll rises, most of which has been blamed on Saudi airstrikes.

Late last year, the House passed a nonbinding resolution that called U.S. military involvement in the war unauthorized.

Earlier this year, the Senate blocked a resolution that would have ended U.S. military support to the campaign, though the vote margin was narrower than expected. Following that vote, a provision was added to the Senate version of an annual defense policy bill that would make U.S. refueling of coalition aircraft conditional on the coalition meeting certain criteria.

In the letter to be sent to Mattis, the House lawmakers express concern the Pentagon misled Congress about the U.S. role in Yemen during debate on the Senate resolution in light of the Times report. 

“We call on you to immediately disclose the full extent of the U.S. military role in the Saudi-led war against Yemen’s Houthis,” the draft said, “including the use of special operations forces; disclose any role that the Pentagon is currently performing, has been asked to perform, or is considering performing regarding an attack on the port of Hodeida; and issue a public declaration opposing this impending assault and restating the administration’s position that Saudi Arabia and other parties to the conflict should accept an immediate ceasefire and move toward a political settlement to resolve the conflict.”