US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has defended US military support to the Saudi Arabian-led war against Yemen and urged US lawmakers not to end Washington’s involvement in the devastating conflict.
Since last year, the administration of US President Donald Trump has been appearing to warn Saudi Arabia that concern in Congress over the humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties in Yemen could constrain US assistance.
Mattis claimed that the American assistance, which includes intelligence support and refueling of coalition jets, was ultimately aimed at bringing the war toward a negotiated settlement.
“We need to get this to a negotiated settlement, and we believe our policy right now is correct for doing this,” Mattis told reporters, as he flew back to Washington from the Middle East.
In a letter to Congress last year, Mattis said ending US military assistance to Riyadh would “jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counter-terrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis.”
Since it began in 2015, the conflict has killed about 14,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and driven Yemen to the verge of widespread famine.
Much of the Arabian Peninsula country’s infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.
The United Nations says a record 22.2 million people are in need of food aid, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.
A high-ranking UN official recently warned about the “catastrophic” living conditions in Yemen, stating that there is a growing risk of famine and cholera there.
Earlier this month, Yemen’s Prime Minister Abdel-Aziz bin Habtour said Saudi Arabia would not have been able to wage a war on the impoverished country without support from the United States.
A bipartisan group of US senators are attempting to use the 1973 war powers act to withdraw US military assistance from the Saudi-led war on Yemen and other conflicts not authorized by Congress.
Their resolution would force Trump “to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen,” except operations against al-Qaeda or affiliated forces. Those are authorized under a 2001 congressional authorization.
Their action is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the US Congress and the White House over control of military conflicts. Lawmakers have argued for years that Congress has ceded too much authority over the military to the White House. Under the Constitution, Congress – not the president – has the authority to declare war.