The United States wants to continue support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's war and will remain engaged in efforts to combat Iranian influence, a State Department official said yesterday. Since the Oct. 2 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, the U.S. administration has come under pressure at home over the nearly four-year-old conflict.
The Senate last month voted to advance a resolution to end U.S. military support, which includes arms sales and intelligence sharing, for the Western-backed Saudi-led coalition that intervened in 2015 against the Iranian-aligned Houthis to restore the internationally recognized government.
"There are pressures in our system... to either withdraw from the conflict or discontinue our support of the coalition, which we are strongly opposed to on the administration side," said Timothy Lenderking, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs, as reported by Reuters. "We do believe that the support for the coalition is necessary. It sends a wrong message if we discontinue our support," he told a security forum in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The United States last month halted U.S. refueling of aircraft from the coalition, which has been blamed for airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in Yemen. The U.S. official's reassurance of continued support comes as Sweden hosts the first U.N.-led peace talks in two years between the warring parties. The Houthi delegation at the ongoing peace talks in Sweden said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE should also be represented during the negotiations in order to end the war in Yemen.
The Arabian Peninsula country lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers. Yemen has been wracked by conflict since 2014, when the Shiite Houthi rebels overran much of the country. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the former Saudi defense minister, and Saudi Arabia's allies launched Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. The last available U.N. figure for the civilian death toll was in 2016 and stood at more than 10,000. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence in Yemen, puts it at around 57,000 people. Around 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, U.N. agencies said on Saturday, adding the conflict ravaging the impoverished country was the key driver behind rising hunger levels. "As many as 20 million Yemenis are food insecure in the world's worst humanitarian crisis," a joint statement by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the children's fund UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) said.