Saudi-led coalition in Yemen requests end to US refueling
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates –The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said early Saturday it had “requested cessation of inflight refueling” by the U.S. for its fighter jets after American officials said they would stop the operations amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom’s airstrikes.
The decision by Americans to pull out also comes amid outrage by U.S. lawmakers from both political parties over the Oct. 2 slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
It wasn’t immediately clear what impact the U.S. withdrawal from air refueling operations would have. American officials earlier said Saudi forces now handled some 80 percent of their refueling operations, which crucially allow aircraft to fly longer sorties over possible targets and eases the pressure on quick strikes.
Yet even with that refueling support, Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism over its campaign of airstrikes in the coalition’s war in Yemen, targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis who hold the capital, Sanaa.
Saudi strikes have hit public markets, hospitals and other nonmilitary targets, killing scores of civilians. One such Saudi-led airstrike in August in Yemen’s Saada province hit a bus and killed dozens of people, including schoolchildren wearing backpacks.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday to discuss the decision before its announcement, said the end to refueling wouldn’t stop American training and military assistance. The Post first reported the Trump administration’s desire to end the refueling.
The Saudi statement, carried early Saturday on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, did not acknowledge the Trump administration’s decision.
“Recently the kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen,” the statement read. “As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen.”
It also said it hoped upcoming United Nations sponsored talks “in a third country” would help end the war.
Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.