The Pentagon on Thursday said it will let Congress decide whether it has proper authority to continue supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
“I will let Congress decide, but we feel as though we have the authorities under the current [authorization for the use of military force] to conduct our mission,” said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White at a press briefing.
U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen is under scrutiny from an anti-establishment coalition of conservative and progressive lawmakers led by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who say the U.S. is involved in an unauthorized war.
Saudi Arabia launched a military coalition against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen in 2015, after they overran the capital of Sanaa. The U.S. military has provided logistical support for the campaign — refueling Saudi aircraft and providing intelligence and weapons.
Earlier this week, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told lawmakers that the support was being provided under bilateral arms sales and logistical agreements.
“Any arms sales, of course, go through our foreign military sales and foreign military funding process that’s managed by the Department of State. And so they have — they have the principal oversight for — for that,” he said.
“The provision of fuel to — to Saudi aircraft is — is provided for under the acquisition cross-servicing agreement that we have in place with — with Saudi Arabia. And so that provides us the authority to provide that support to them,” he said.
However, an aide to Lee said Tuesday that acquisition cross-servicing agreements were never meant to provide any kind of authorization for participation in a war.
On Wednesday, Lee and Sanders introduced legislation that would force a vote on whether to end U.S. support for the war.
Both sides have their own reasoning: Lee is a Constitutionalist who believes that Congress needs to take back its constitutional authority over war, and Sanders opposes U.S. involvement in unnecessary wars.
Saudi Arabia has come under significant criticism from human rights activists for an indiscriminate bombing campaign they say has caused about 10,000 civilian deaths and tens of thousands more wounded.
U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war began under the Obama administration, but received little opposition at the time.
However, as civilian casualties mounted and the humanitarian situation in the country worsened, late in his administration, President Obama halted an arms sale and decreased intelligence support. Last year, President Trump, however, approved a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia.