USA won't refuel Saudi coalition planes bombing Yemen anymore

Yemen forces push towards Hodeida as death toll mounts

"Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct in-flight refueling in Yemen".

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. government was consulted on the decision and that Washington supported the move while continuing to work with the alliance to minimise civilian casualties and expand humanitarian efforts.

The move comes at a time of global outrage over the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and after Democratic and Republican lawmakers threatened to take action in Congress next week over the refueling operations.

The U.S.is providing the Saudis with intelligence and aerial refueling for Saudi warplanes, and has sought to give more training to Saudi pilots to avoid killing civilians.

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.

The killing of Jamal Khashoggi may have triggered a ceasefire in Yemen, and possibly peace in the war-torn country, according to the president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., had warned the Trump administration was running out of time to act.

"If the administration does not take immediate steps ... we are prepared to take additional action when the Senate comes back into session", the senators said.

The US' statement came after the Saudi Arabia said that "in consultation with the US" it has asked for "cessation of inflight refueling support" from America.

He said the USA will continue working with the coalition to minimise civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

The coalition is supporting the Yemeni troops on the ground with fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters, he told AFP.

The action comes amid growing congressional anger against Saudi Arabia, a key ally and the country where President Donald Trump made his first visit overseas after taking office.

The coalition's request came amid the backdrop of U.S. media reports that Washington planned to cease its refuelling support to the coalition amid mounting criticism of the devastating Yemeni conflict, raging since 2015, and the killing of Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

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

He told them cutting off support could jeopardise cooperation on counter-terrorism and reduce American influence with Saudi Arabia. While Iran directly denies arming the rebels, the United Nations and Western powers have documented arms transfers to the Houthis by Tehran of everything from Kalashnikov assault rifles to the ballistic missile technology used to periodically target cities as far away as the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.

Still, a halt to refuelling could by itself have little practical effect on the war. Only a fifth of coalition aircraft require in-air refuelling from the United States, U.S. officials said.

In recent weeks, Mattis has appeared to voice a growing sense of urgency toward ending the conflict. At the end of October, Mattis joined U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in calling for a ceasefire.

"The longer-term solution, and by longer term I mean 30 days from now, we want to see everybody sitting around the table, based on a cease-fire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on ceasing dropping of bombs", Mattis said, adding that Griffiths "knows what he's doing" and was attempting "to get them together in Sweden and end this war".

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