Secretary of State Urges Senate Not To 'Abandon Yemen' Ahead of Vote
STATE DEPARTMENT —
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are defending U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi-led bombing against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
In remarks to U.S. senators, released ahead of a closed session Wednesday, Pompeo said, "The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse."
The secretary of state also announced on Twitter "nearly $131 million in additional food assistance in #Yemen."
Separately, the U.S. Senate was set to vote as early as Wednesday on a measure to force the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. military support in the conflict that has left millions in danger of starvation.
In prepared remarks released to reporters before the briefing with senators, Defense Secretary Mattis outlined the scope of U.S. involvement in the conflict.
"The U.S. is not operationally involved in hostilities in Yemen's civil war or in situations where the threat of hostilities is imminent, other than in counterterrorism operations against AQAP and ISIS," Mattis said, referring to the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State terror groups.
U.S. lawmakers from both political parties have rejected the Trump administration's determination that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen, where Saudi coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of noncombatants.
Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition acknowledged "mistakes were made" in an August bus bombing that killed dozens of children. The coalition vowed to hold responsible those who bombed the vehicle and said it would improve its targeting procedures.
Mattis addressed the issue in his prepared remarks defending U.S. involvement in Yemen.
"President [Donald] Trump added measures to improve the coalition's deliberate targeting procedures designed to minimize civilian casualties in this conflict to the greatest extent possible," the defense secretary said.
Pompeo highlighted the ongoing diplomatic process to end the war in Yemen, spearheaded by U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, saying it is "gaining steam."
"If that diplomacy starts to make breakthroughs, our hopes are high that hostilities will soon stop entirely," the secretary of state said.
The three-year conflict in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people, with millions facing starvation and disease.