First Published: 2018-03-20

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits
Rare Senate vote addressing American war powers aims to shut down US military involvement in Yemen unless Congress formally authorizes continued involvement.
Middle East Online

Some US lawmakers have long expressed concern about the Yemen conflict.

WASHINGTON D.C. - US lawmakers will vote Tuesday on whether to end American involvement in Yemen's bloody civil war, an extraordinary effort to overrule presidential military authorization just as Saudi Arabia's crown prince visits Washington.

The rare Senate vote addressing American war powers aims to shut down US military involvement in Yemen within a month unless Congress formally authorizes continued involvement.

The US military is currently supporting a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

The vote, which was being forced to the floor by a bipartisan group of senators including Bernie Sanders, could cause diplomatic embarrassment on a day President Donald Trump when meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is launching a three-week US tour.

Some US lawmakers have long expressed concern about the Yemen conflict, which has seen high levels of civilian casualties and caused a humanitarian crisis.

The Pentagon since 2015 has provided "non-combat support" to Saudi Arabia, including intelligence sharing and air-to-air refueling for its war planes.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week asked Congress not to interfere with America's role, warning that restrictions could "increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis -- all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis."

More than 9,200 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded in Yemen's three-year-old war, which is seen as both a civil conflict and a proxy war between regional titans Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Senators Sanders, Mike Lee and Chris Murphy said earlier this month that their resolution would force the first-ever vote in the Senate "to withdraw US armed forces from an unauthorized war."

"We believe that, as Congress has not declared war or authorized military force in this conflict, the United States involvement in Yemen is unconstitutional and unauthorized, and US military support of the Saudi coalition must end," said Sanders.

Trump's top military and diplomatic advisors said last October that the administration was not seeking new authority for conducting military operations in the world's hot spots.

Congress first passed an authorization to use military force, or AUMF, on September 14, 2001 -- three days after the devastating attacks on New York and Washington by Al-Qaeda hijackers.

Since then, presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump have relied on the order's authority, along with a subsequent AUMF in 2002, as the basis for operations against armed Islamist groups.

Several Democrats, and some Republicans, have warned that the 15-year-old authorities are licenses for endless US military engagement.

- French involvement unlawful -

France may have broken international law by providing weapons and technical help to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen, a report commissioned by rights groups said Tuesday.

The report by Paris law firm Ancile said France was in all probability continuing to export arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with no guarantee that they will not be used in Yemen.

The exports would likely "constitute a violation by France" of the UN's Arms Trade Treaty and the EU's Common Position on Arms Export, said the report commissioned by Amnesty International and French anti-torture group Acat.

Saudi Arabia is a major buyer of Western weapons and European governments have come under pressure from NGOs over fears their arms could potentially be implicated in war crimes in Yemen.

Norway has suspended arms exports to the United Arab Emirates, while in Germany, the coalition agreement of Chancellor Angela Merkel's new government says no weapons will be supplied to countries involved in the conflict.

France, one of the world's biggest arms exporters, has sold equipment to Riyadh and fellow coalition member the United Arab Emirates -- notably Caesar artillery guns and ammunition, sniper rifles and armoured vehicles.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman insisted Tuesday that "France has a robust and transparent system of controls on exports of weapons of war".

"Export decisions are taken under the prime minister with strict respect for France's international commitments," the spokeswoman added.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's office said this month that French land weapons sold to Riyadh were "defensive" and being used on the ground in Saudi to deter Huthi attacks.

"The Emiratis are on the ground in Yemen with some French equipment but it is not these weapons that are implicated in the collateral damage which must stop," Philippe's office added.

"The surveillance measures around the Yemen question... has been strongly reinforced in recent months."

Amnesty blasted what it said was a lack of transparency over how French weapons end up being used by Arab importers, saying it was "imperative that parliament debates French arms sales and takes control of them."

Two other French NGOs, Aser and Droit Solidarite, will take the government to court for failing to respect international agreements if it does not suspend its export licences, Aser chief Benoit Muracciole said.


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