Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war
More than 50 anti-war groups are urging lawmakers to use the annual defense policy bill to end all U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war.
In a letter being sent Monday, the organizations call on lawmakers to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to “legislate an end to ongoing U.S. complicity in the war and blockade in Yemen.”
“By suspending the sale of arms and ending U.S. participation in the Saudi coalition’s war and blockade, Congress can prevent a humanitarian catastrophe from spiraling further out of control as it reasserts its constitutional authority on matters of war and peace,” the 56 organizations wrote in the letter, a draft of which was obtained by The Hill.
The letter comes before the House is expected to consider its version of the NDAA later this week and provides a tacit backing of an amendment to the bill filed by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
More than 800 amendments have been filed for this year’s NDAA, and typically only a fraction receive floor votes. But supporters of Khanna’s amendment say they expect it will make it to the floor.
“With the help of U.S. logistical and maintenance support, Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen has created untold suffering for tens of millions of people and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths,” Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, one of the letter’s organizers, said in a statement.
“It’s now critical Congress support Rep. Khanna’s amendment to the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act and finally terminate U.S. participation in Saudi’s aerial operations for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need,” El-Tayyab added. “Members of Congress have two choices: vote for this amendment, or vote for an active U.S. role in crimes against humanity for millions of people, including children.”
U.S. lawmakers in both parties in recent years have been increasingly opposed to the Saudi-led war in Yemen as civilian casualties from coalition bombing runs mount and a blockade exacerbates humanitarian catastrophes including famine and disease.
In 2019, Congress voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi coalition, but then-President Trump vetoed the measure and lawmakers could not muster the two-thirds support needed to override him.
In February, President Biden announced he was ending U.S. military support for “offensive” Saudi operations in Yemen, but stressed the United States remains committed to Saudi Arabia’s defense.
Since then, the Biden administration has been vague about how it defines offensive versus defensive operations. And critics hold that the U.S. support that has continued, such as aircraft maintenance, still enables offensive operations.
Khanna’s amendment would bar funding for “logistical support in the form of maintenance or the transfer of spare parts for aircraft that enable coalition strikes against the Houthis in Yemen,” according to the text of the amendment.
It would also block funding for “sharing intelligence for the purpose of enabling coalition strikes against the Houthis,” as well as for the U.S. military to “command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of the Saudi-led coalition forces.”
“While the Biden administration has made important progress in curbing U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, U.S. taxpayer dollars still bankroll the maintenance and spare parts for Saudi warplanes raining down bombs on Yemeni men, women, and children amidst the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. This must end,” Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a joint statement earlier this month about the amendment.
The House approved similar NDAA amendments in 2019 and 2020, but they were stripped out during negotiations with the Senate on the final version of the bills that were signed into law.
In addition to Khanna’s amendment, a more narrow amendment has been filed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) that would suspend U.S. sustainment and maintenance support to Saudi air force units found to be responsible for airstrikes that caused civilian casualties.
The Meeks amendment would also provide exceptions for territorial self-defense, counterterrorism operations and defense of U.S. government facilities or personnel.
While the letter advocacy groups are sending Congress on Monday does not explicitly back one amendment over the other, signatories dismissed “half measures” and voiced their support for Khanna’s amendment.
“Without real action, millions of lives are at risk, and the U.S. will be complicit,” Marcus Stanley, advocacy director at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said in a statement. “The Khanna amendment offers an opportunity to genuinely end American support for Saudi aggression and take a crucial step to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We urge a vote for this amendment. Half measures like reporting requirements or partial restrictions will not do, it is time to definitively end our support for this war.