US special forces secretly deployed to assist Saudi Arabia in Yemen conflict

The Pentagon said before that the US role in the conflict was limited to 'refuelling and logistics'

Mythili Sampathkumar
new York
Thursday 03 May 2018 22:16 BST

A team of elite US soldiers called the Green Berets were deployed in secret last year to the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border to help defeat the Houthi rebels.

Since the Yemen conflict began three years ago, Houthi rebels have launched ballistic missiles towards Riyadh and other Saudi Arabian cities on numerous occasions and the kingdom has responded with its own airstrikes. Twelve Green Berets were deployed to the border in December 2017 just weeks after Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman renewed his call for American support claimed the kingdom had intercepted the latest missile, shot at the Riyadh airport.

Officials from President Donald Trump’s administration as well as European and Arab diplomats, told the New York Times the troops are “helping locate and destroy” training sites and missiles of the Houthis. Part of their mission is to also train Saudi troops on how best to defend their border with Yemen.

The newspaper reported that the rebels “pose no direct threat to the US”. The Pentagon had previously said its role in the conflict was limited to “refuelling, logistics, and general intelligence sharing”.

The war in the region's poorest country began in 2014 when Houthi rebels took control of Sanaa and pushed south towards Aden. Saudi Arabia and its coalition, fearing that the rebels were being backed by its rival Iran, then launched a series of air strikes to restore control for the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis, who hail from northern Yemen, control Sanaa and much of the country's north - which borders Saudi Arabia - and the key Hodeida port on the Red Sea coast.

Since the air strikes began, at least 10,000 people have died as a result and 40,000 have been wounded. The conflict has also played a large part in causing a cholera epidemic and leaving millions facing famine and severe malnutrition.

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“There is no indication that the American commandos have crossed into Yemen as part of the secretive mission,” the newspaper reported and the Pentagon have cited security reasons for not commenting on the matter save to say that the operation includes “limited non-combat support, such as intelligence sharing,” according to Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, called the Green Berets mission a “purposeful blurring of lines between train and equip missions and combat”. He has renewed his call for Congress to pass a new “authorisation of use of military force” (AUMF), since the US Congress is the only body that has the ability to declare war. The US has been operating in several conflict zones around the world under the same AUMF since 2001, which were war powers passed just days after the September 11th attacks when the US military began its ongoing war in Afghanistan.

There are also US intelligence experts in the southern Saudi city of Najran that have been working with Saudi troops.

Despite Mr Trump’s ever-closer ties to Saudi Arabia, he had asked the kingdom to end a blockade on Yemeni ports last December, possibly around the time the Green Berets had been deployed.

Mr Trump had said in a statement that he had directed US officials to call Saudi Arabian leaders and request they "completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people."

He said at time that Yemenis "desperately need it”.

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