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US lawmakers renew push to end Washington's role in Yemen war

More than 40 members of Congress introduce new War Powers resolution to end any US role in the Saudi-led coalition's efforts in Yemen
Saudi Arabia began its involvement in Yemen in 2015, when Riyadh and its allies launched a campaign to roll back gains made by the Houthi movement.
Saudi Arabia began its involvement in Yemen in 2015, when Riyadh and its allies launched a campaign to roll back gains made by the Houthi movement (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced a War Powers resolution on Wednesday that would bring an end to all remaining support for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, strengthening US President Joe Biden's pledge last year to end assistance.

The new resolution would end US military participation in offensive air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, including ending intelligence-sharing and logistical support such as maintenance and provision of spare parts.

It would also halt any US personnel from any direct or indirect role in the Saudi-led coalition's forces without prior congressional authorisation.

"Article I of the Constitution is clear: Congress, not the Executive branch, has the sole authority to declare war and authorize involvement of U.S. forces in overseas conflicts, including inserting U.S. troops as advisors in aid of foreign-led hostilities," Congressman Peter DeFazio said in a statement.

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"It's critical that the Biden Administration take the steps necessary to fulfill their promise to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen."

The resolution, spearheaded by DeFazio, Pramila Jayapal, Adam Schiff and Nancy Mace, includes an additional 44 co-sponsors and is also supported by 100 civil society, anti-war, and human rights organisations. DeFazio and Jayapal announced their intention to introduce the resolution earlier this year.

A companion bill will be introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders - a leading advocate against the Yemen war - in the Senate, according to the House Progressive Caucus.

"Congress cannot sit by and allow the United States' complicity in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world to continue," said Jayapal.

"There are more than 16 million Yemenis living on the brink of starvation and more than two million children suffering from acute malnutrition - and the American people's tax dollars are helping finance that suffering."

Biden and the Yemen war

Saudi Arabia and its allies, notably the United Arab Emirates, began their involvement in Yemen in 2015, when they launched a campaign to roll back gains made by the Houthi movement, who had taken over the capital of Yemen the previous year.

The coalition embarked on a massive air campaign, which rights groups have accused of killing scores of innocent civilians. Since 2015, the UN estimates that the war in Yemen has led to the death of more than 377,000 people, including from direct fighting as well as hunger and disease.

The United Nations has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe.

'It is total hypocrisy for the Biden administration to be opposing Putin's horrifying war in Ukraine while supporting Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen'

- Sunjeev Bery, Freedom Forward

Weeks after entering office in 2021, Biden announced Washington would end support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, marking a major foreign policy shift from the Trump administration.

The announcement was received warmly from progressives and peace advocates. However, questions soon emerged as to what "offensive support" constituted, and what would happen to key aspects of the coalition's air strike operations such as aircraft maintenance, which the US provided.

Democratic lawmakers DeFazio and Ro Khanna, another co-sponsor of the bill, blasted the vague language in an interview with Middle East Eye in January.

The introduction of the legislation also follows months of tense relations between the US and Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's refusal to increase oil output amid rising energy prices in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Biden is reportedly planning to travel to the kingdom this month, where officials have said both oil output and the potential to normalise relations with Israel are on the table.

It is unclear whether US support for the Yemen war is on the list of issues to be discussed, but the timing of the new war power resolution provides a clear signal to Biden of where many in Congress stand on the conflict.

"It is total hypocrisy for the Biden administration to be opposing Putin's horrifying war in Ukraine while supporting Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen," Sunjeev Bery, executive director of Freedom Forward, told MEE.

"Instead of working with climate-destroying oil dictators like the Saudi monarchy, the Biden administration should stand on the side of peace."

Renewed push amid ceasefire

Congress attempted to pass multiple iterations of the Yemen War Powers resolution during the Trump administration, but none of the measures had been able to overcome the former US president's veto power.

However, Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation, told Middle East Eye that the nationwide ceasefire announced earlier this year by Yemen's warring parties "offers hope that an end to the seven-year conflict might finally be possible".

"Congress must help prevent backsliding by Saudi Arabia, which has driven so much of the violence through indiscriminate airstrikes and crippling blockade, by passing the Yemen War Powers Resolution and blocking U.S. military support for any renewed hostilities," he told MEE.

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Yemen entered into a United Nations-brokered truce on 2 April, marking the first day of Ramadan.

It was the first time the country had seen a nationwide truce in years. It would also allow fuel imports into Houthi-held areas and some flights to operate from Sanaa airport, which had been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 because of coalition air strikes. A month later, the first commercial flight took off from Sanaa.

The ceasefire agreement, however, ends this month and without a renewal or other measure to halt fighting, Yemen could again be engulfed in major violence.

"Congressional pressure is critical right now," said El-Tayyab, "to keep the warring parties at the bargaining table and off the battlefield."