In a non-binding move, the lawmakers publicly acknowledged that the US military support for Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen, which involves sharing information and refueling warplanes, goes beyond what Congress has approved. It further explains that US forces are authorized to combat only Al-Qaeda or its affiliates as well as other terrorist groups in Yemen – but not the Houthi rebels that are targeted by the Saudis.
Congress “has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force [AUMF] or the 2003 AUMF in Iraq,” the resolution says. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the document with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), also drew attention to the fact that what the US military is doing goes beyond its authorized capacity.
“What our military is not authorized to do is assist the Saudi Arabian regime in fighting the Houthis,” Khanna said, as cited by Politico. He also claimed that Washington’s aid to Saudi Arabia runs counter to its own stated goals in the region.
“In many cases, the Saudis have aligned with Al-Qaeda to fight the Houthis, undermining our very counterterrorism operations,” he said. The document itself also states that “the conflict between the Saudi-led Arab Coalition and the Houthi… alliance is counterproductive to ongoing efforts by the United States to pursue Al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”
Khanna, also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has previously accused Washington of contributing to Saudi airstrikes “that kill civilians” and “are creating a security vacuum that allows groups like ISIS [Islamic State/IS, also ISIL] to gain a foothold.”
The resolution adopted 366-30 on Monday is, however, largely symbolic and does not call for an immediate stop to US military aid to the Saudi-led coalition. Khanna particularly criticized the US interventions in the Middle East by saying that they had not “made the United States or the world any safer.” In a Twitter post he also called on Washington to embrace “a foreign policy of restraint and diplomacy.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on lawmakers to “sunset the 2001 AUMF,” adding that the document had never been intended to be “a blank check,” Politico reports. The 2001 AUMF authorized the US president to use military force against “nations, organizations, or persons” that are considered to be in any way linked to the 9/11 attacks, to prevent further terrorist assaults on the country.
The authorization has been used numerous times to justify military action against Afghanistan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to the Congressional Research Service.
There were calls to halt US support for the Gulf countries fighting in Yemen even before the Monday resolution. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said in June that it was “astounding what’s going on in Yemen]” with US weapons, during a debate on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California and a long-time advocate for the suspension of US cooperation with the Saudi-led coalition, also said earlier this year that Washington should not increase its involvement in the Yemeni civil war “without any explanation” by the president.
Since March 2015, the UN has recorded a total of 13,504 civilian casualties in Yemen, including 4,971 killed and 8,533 injured. Yemen’s conflict has also brought one of the region’s poorest countries to the brink of famine.