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US to stop ‘inflight refuelling’ of Saudi-led coalition jets in Yemen

American decision comes amid outrage over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi

Saturday 10 November 2018 16:50 GMT
Jet fighters of the Saudi royal air force
Jet fighters of the Saudi royal air force (Getty)

The US will stop the “inflight refuelling” of Saudi-led coalition jets in Yemen amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom’s air strikes.

The decision by Americans to pull out also comes amid outrage by US politicians from both political parties over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudis said it had “requested cessation of inflight refuelling” by the US, which appeared to suggest it was the kingdom was behind the decision.

“We support the decision by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US government, to use the coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct inflight refuelling in support of its operations in Yemen,” US defence secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

“The US will also continue working with the coalition and Yemen to minimise civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country.”

It was not immediately clear what impact the US withdrawal from air refuelling operations would have.

American officials earlier said Saudi forces now handled some 80 per cent of their refuelling operations, which crucially allow aircraft to fly longer sorties over possible targets and can ease the pressure for quick strikes.

Yet even with that refuelling support, Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism over its campaign of airstrikes in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, targeting Shia rebels known as Houthis who hold the capital, Sanaa.

The strikes have hit public markets, hospitals and other non-military targets, killing scores of civilians, according to the United Nations.

US officials said the end to refuelling would not stop American training and military assistance.

The Saudi statement, carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, did not acknowledge the Trump administration’s discussions and pressure for its withdrawal.

“Recently the kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refuelling in Yemen,” the statement read. ”As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of inflight refuelling support for its operations in Yemen.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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