Senate Advances Bill to End U.S. Military Support for War in Yemen

Houthi rebels hold their weapons aloft in Sana’a, Yemen.
Hani Mohammed/AP

The Senate on Wednesday voted 63-37 to advance a bill to withdraw U.S. military support from a Saudi-led coalition fighting the war in Yemen, in a sign of souring American support for both Saudi Arabia and the war.

Fourteen Republicans voted along with all 49 Democrats to advance the bill for a Senate floor vote, while 37 Republicans voted against advancing the bill. The vote will likely take place next week.

The advancement of the vote is a victory for both a growing number of Republicans and Democrats who have wanted to limit U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, which they say has not been authorized by Congress.

The war is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 10,000 killed and an estimated 13 million facing starvation, according to the United Nations.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project estimates 56,000 civilians and combatants have been killed between January 2016 and October 2018, according to a recent article by the Independent.

In addition, American public support for the Saudi-led coalition has waned after reports that the Saudi government allegedly ordered the brutal murder of a dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Saudis are our ally, but we don’t blindly support our friends when their values and interests conflict with ours. The Saudi war in Yemen has gone off the rails and their disregard for human life has become impossible to ignore. Today’s breakthrough vote in the Senate is a signal to the administration that they must quickly reorient their policy toward Saudi Arabia or Congress will do it for them,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a statement.

“I’m gratified by how much bipartisan support we got for today’s motion. Just two years ago, only 27 Senators supported a narrower measure to block a single arms sale. Fast forward to today where a bipartisan group of 63 Senators stood up to Saudi Arabia and the administration to advance legislation that would immediately end U.S. military participation in the war in Yemen,” he added.

U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition began during the Obama administration.

In September 2014, Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace in Sana’a, forcing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee south to Aden. Saudi Arabia, fearing an Iran-backed Houthi takeover of neighboring Yemen, launched a military coalition effort to restore the Hadi government in March 2015.

The Obama administration began providing military support to the coalition in the form of intelligence, refueling, and other logistical support. U.S. support was somewhat reduced towards the end of the Obama administration, but continued under the Trump administration. The administration ended refueling support earlier this month after Khashoggi’s death.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the U.S. support as aimed at helping Saudi pilots better avoid civilian casualties, but he has also appeared to sour on the war, calling for United Nations-brokered negotiations to begin no later than late November.

Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed members of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon, asking Congress to delay the vote until after negotiation talks occur, which are now scheduled to begin in early December.

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