Skip to main content

Intel: Why the US will stop supporting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

A view of a part of the presidential compound after it was hit by air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah - RC1A54A70AE0

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed Friday night that the Pentagon would no longer refuel Saudi-led coalition planes fighting in the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the decision had been reported by The Washington Post earlier in the day. 

Why it matters: The US decision to call off in-flight refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes comes after congressional Democrats — who have tried to persuade the Donald Trump administration to cut support to the coalition — swept to victory in the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s elections. “We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US government, to use the coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct inflight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen,” Mattis said Friday.

Beltway spin: Both the Pentagon and Saudi Arabia said Riyadh made the decision after the kingdom became self-sufficient in refueling efforts. “Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen,” the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement. “As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested the cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen.” Mattis said at an event earlier this month that the United States only refueled 20% of Saudi bombing runs. 

The inside take: Experts following US support for the Yemeni civil war say the news seems to be an effort to stop Democrats in Congress from cutting US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which President Donald Trump has expressly sought to avoid — even over objections inside the administration. “I'd heard Mattis was close after the school bus strike,” a former US official told Al-Monitor, referring to an Aug. 9 airstrike by Saudi Arabia that killed more than 40 children. “But this is just a cynical move to try to head off Congress. It won’t work.”

What’s next: Expect Democrats in Congress to push for the elimination of other aspects of US support for the Saudi-led coalition, including US weapons sales and intelligence support for airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthis. “This is long overdue, but if refueling is a bad idea, then why still sell the Saudis the bombs and help them pick targets?” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading congressional critic of US involvement in Yemen, tweeted Friday. “Time to get ALL THE WAY OUT of this moral and strategic catastrophe.” 

Know more: Read Jack Detsch’s latest on the internal debate inside the Donald Trump administration on whether labeling the Houthi rebels as terrorists would help or hinder stalled peace negotiations.

-Jack Detsch

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial