Defense

Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war

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A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Trump administration to adhere to a recently signed law requiring certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are meeting certain humanitarian criteria or else cut off some U.S. military assistance.

The letter is in response to the ongoing civil war in Yemen, which the senators say has led to a “humanitarian crisis” that will threaten U.S. interests as it continues.

{mosads}“As you know, Yemen is suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The ongoing civil war has caused or exacerbated these horrific humanitarian conditions. Iran and other nefarious actors have capitalized on the instability resulting from the civil war to threaten the U.S., our partners, and our interests. We believe this humanitarian crisis and the threats to our interests will only worsen the longer the civil war continues.”

The letter was organized by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

At issue is a provision in the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires the administration to certify within 30 days that Saudi and UAE behavior in Yemen’s civil war is helping to end the war, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in Yemen’s civil war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels that began in 2015. The United States supports the coalition with intelligence sharing, logistics such as air refueling and billions of dollars in arms sales.

Under the NDAA, if the administration cannot make the certification, it must stop refueling coalition aircraft.

U.S. lawmakers’ patience with the Saudi coalition has been wearing increasingly thin as the civilian death toll mounts. The deaths have largely been blamed on coalition airstrikes.

Earlier this month, the coalition struck a school bus, killing 40 children.

A United Nations report this week said all parties in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

After the bus bombing and the U.N. report, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters he is “constantly reviewing” support to the coalition, but did not indicate it will stop any time soon.

“The reality is that that battlefield is a humanitarian field, and we recognize the tragedy there,” Mattis said at a Pentagon briefing this week. “But we did review the support for the Arab coalition when we came into office. As you know, it was started before we arrived here. We reviewed it, we determined that it was the right thing to do to support them in the defense of their own countries, but also to restore the rightful government there.”

The certification requirement in the NDAA was one of several provisions President Trump objected to in a signing statement after it became law, making it unclear whether the administration plans to follow the provision.

In their letter, the senators highlighted the several steps of bipartisan approval the provision went through before it became law.

“It is worth noting that both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee approved versions of our legislation,” they wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. “Subsequently, NDAA conferees from both chambers decided to include the provision in the final NDAA, which was then approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by the president.”

The provision allows for a national security waiver to continue refueling coalition aircraft if the certification can’t be made. But the administration has to submit an unclassified justification to Congress if it grants that waiver.

“If you utilize this waiver, we look forward to reviewing the report as required,” the senators wrote. “In accordance with the law, we look forward to reviewing your written, detailed, and unclassified certification no later than September 12, 2018.”

Tags Ben Cardin Chris Murphy Christopher Coons Cory Booker Donald Trump Jack Reed James Mattis Jeanne Shaheen Mike Pompeo Saudi Arabia Saudi Coalition Susan Collins Tim Kaine Todd Young U.S. foreign policy yemen civil war
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