The refueling program has been a major aspect of US support in the Yemen. (Reuters: Khaled Abdullah)
The United States is stopping refueling of aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen, ending one of the most divisional aspects of US assistance to the Saudi effort.
- Saudi Arabia says it can now aerial refueling itself
- US Defense Secretary says his government was consulted
- The move comes amid outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi Arabia, in a statement released by its embassy in Washington on Friday (local time), said it had decided to request an end to US aerial refueling for its operation in Yemen because it could now handle it by itself.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis backed the decision and said the US Government was consulted.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Democratic Republicans are threatened to take action in congress next week over the refueling operations.
Critics of the Saudi campaign – including Democrats, who have been in the midterm elections this week – have long been questioning US involvement in the matter, which has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and led to widespread famine in Yemen since it started in 2015.
"I've been calling for over three years," Californian Democrat Ted Lieu said.
"We should not be supporting coalition was crimes and I look forward to continuing to scrutinize the US's role in Yemen when we're in the majority next Congress."
Even as President Donald Trump's administration condemned Khashoggi's murder, the White House has sought to maintain its relationship with Saudi Arabia.
A coordinated decision by Washington and Riyadh to stop the refueling could be an attempt by both countries to further action by Congress.
Senator Todd Young, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, had warned the Trump administration of running out of time to act.
"The Senate comes back into session," the senators said.
US-Saudi alliance continues
Mr Mattis had previously defended US military support to the Saudi-led coalition. (Supplied: Shabia Mantoo / UNHCR)
Beyond refueling, the United States provides limited intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition and was used in Yemen's.
Mr Mattis said the United States would play a continuing role in helping the Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni forces minimize civilian casualties and expand humanitarian efforts.
Hey Yemeni troops.
Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country's borders, and contribute to counter Al Qaeda and [Islamic State] Yemen and the region, "Mr. Mattis said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Mr Mattis had defended US military support to Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, when Washington's involvement with the Pentagon was discussed.
Mr Mattis argued that holding US military support could increase civilian casualties, since US refueling had given pilots more time to select their targets.
He told them cutting off support could jeopardize cooperation on counter-terrorism and reduce American influence with Saudi Arabia.
Mr Mattis also argued it was emboldened by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, who have fired missiles at Saudi Arabia and targeted yemen's coast.
Still, a stop to refueling could by itself have little practical effect on the war.
US officials told Reuters only a fifth of Saudi-led coalition aircraft require in-flight refueling from the United States.
In recent weeks, Mr Mattis has appeared to voice a growing sense of urgency toward ending the conflict.
At the end of October, Mr Mattis joined US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in calling for a ceasefire.
United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths is aiming to convene the country's warring parties for peace talks by the end of the year.
Saudi Arabia, in its statement, said its coalition was hopeful that UN-sponsored negotiations would lead to a negotiated settlement and "end to the aggression by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias' against the Yemeni people and countries in the region".