A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday to reconsider his support for a seemingly imminent assault by a Saudi-led coalition on the crucial Yemeni port city of Hodeida. “In the face of Yemen’s senseless humanitarian tragedy, where 19 million people need emergency support, we are committed to using our Constitutional authority to assert greater oversight over U.S. involvement in the conflict and promote greater public debate regarding U.S. military participation in Yemen’s civil war, which has never been authorized by Congress,” the legislators said in a letter.
The letter comes on the heels of another, signed by 55 legislators, to President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisting that any direct U.S. involvement in Yemen be brought before Congress for authorization. In a trip to Saudi Arabia in April, Mattis hinted at direct U.S. military and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition, which is seeking to dislodge the Shiite-led Houthi from Sanaa and other areas they control in Yemen. Saudi fighter jets dropped leaflets over Houthi-controlled Hodeida in recent days warning its hundreds of thousands of residents of an impending offensive, according to the United Nations and aid agencies.
Mattis has asked for the scrapping of Obama-era rules prohibiting direct support to the coalition. Although the Obama administration sold weapons and refueled aircraft to the coalition, direct U.S. engagement through special teams was ruled out because it was considered ineffective in thwarting the well-armed Houthis and because of humanitarian concerns. But the Trump administration has taken a harder line on the Houthis, driven by Saudi allegations that Iran funds, trains and arms the houthis as part of a proxy war against the Sunni monarchies that make up the bulk of the coalition. The Saudis allege that weapons are smuggled through Hodeida to the Houthis, providing them a vital lifeline.
The loss of Hodeida could force the Houthis back to the negotiating table, as the coalition hopes, but the bloodshed expected could also deepen the war’s divisions and prolong Yemen’s immense suffering.