Senate moves to end U.S. support of Yemeni conflict

shutterstock 1241301457 The city of Taiz in southern Yemen. Yemen / Taiz City. 2018-11-02 | anasalhajj / Shutterstock

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a procedural motion to advance a resolution that could end U.S. involvement in the conflict in Yemen. By a margin of nearly two-to-one, senators backed a motion to advance a resolution to invoke the War Powers Act and subject U.S. support for Saudi Arabia to congressional authorization.


The war in Yemen involves government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates battling Houthi rebels supported by Iran. It has been termed the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world" by UNICEF.


The United States has been supplying logistical and intelligence support to Saudi forces participating in the fighting, including offering mid-air refueling for military planes engaged in regular bombing missions.


In addition to logistical support, the United States accounts for 60 percent of arms imports to Saudi Arabia.


At least 6,500 civilians have been killed by fighting over the last three years, as have over 10,000 combatants. In October, Stephen Anderson, the U.N.'s World Food Program Yemen country director, said that over 500,000 people have fled their homes because of fighting since June.


The war has also led to severe food shortages in Yemen, with Catholic aid agencies estimating that more than 17 million people – sixty percent of the population – are now affected by hunger. Tens of thousands believed to have died of starvation. The country has also seen outbreaks of cholera, which have also claimed thousands of lives.


A January report to the United Nations Security Council concluded that Saudi-backed blockades on humanitarian and commercial goods entering Yemen were "essentially using the threat of starvation as a bargaining tool."


The 63-37 Senate vote on Nov. 29 means that the bipartisan motion will likely come up for further debate in the senate next week. The motion would invoke the War Powers Resolution, asserting congress's right to authorize the commitment of American forces to overseas conflicts.


The 1973 Act says that the president, as commander-in-chief, can only deploy U.S. forces into "hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated" without congressional authorization in cases of national emergency created by an attack on the United States.

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Such involvement includes the use of U.S. forces "to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged."


While the United States has historically supported Saudi Arabia as a key strategic ally and a regional counter-balance to the institutionally anti-American Iranian regime, the escalating toll of the conflict has led to mounting criticism of U.S. involvement.


More recently, the apparent murder and dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Many reports have suggests that Khashoggi's death was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


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Several senators said that their vote in favor of Wednesday's motion was directly tied to a lack of credible accounts of the Saudi regime's involvement in Khashoggi's death, and the Trump administration's refusal to confront the Saudi's over the matter.


In addition to all the Democrat senators, fourteen Republicans backed the motion, which had failed to pass the senate just nine months ago.


Senator Linsey Graham R-SC voted in favor of the motion, despite telling reporters he did not agree with it and believed the War Powers Act was "unconstitutional."


Graham said he was "pissed" with the lack of answers about Khashoggi, and that "the way the administration has handled the [situation with] Saudi Arabia is just not acceptable."


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators on the situation before the vote, later telling press that "there is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

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