US preparing to boost aid to Saudi-led coalition to fight Houthi rebels, report says

Conor Powell reports from Jerusalem


The U.S. is reportedly preparing to boost its aid to Saudi Arabia in its air assault against rebel forces in Yemen.

The Wall Street Journal, citing military officials, reports the U.S. is going to provide the Saudis with more intel, bombs and aerial refueling missions for planes that are carrying out airstrikes in the embattled Arab nation.

The development comes after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition seized full control of Yemeni airspace after two days of airstrikes targeting Houthi rebels, who have taken control of Yemen’s capital and government, a Saudi Defense Ministry official told the paper.

The campaign has raised fears that Yemen’s crisis could escalate into a regional battle putting Sunni countries against Shiite Iran and the Shiite linked Houthis.

Top Sunni clerics have voiced their support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen Friday, while top Iranian leaders including President Hasan Rouhani have already condemned the intervention.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon condemned the “Saudi-American attack,” saying “it is the right of Yemen’s people, who are brave and resilient, to fight and resist, and they will succeed.

U.S. officials told the paper that Saudi officials have requested air tankers to refuel planes and for more American-made bombs to continue with the strikes. The U.S. is preparing to help the Saudis once the requests are approved in Washington.

Under the plan, the U.S. would step up its role in a new military coordination center to aid the Saudi Arabia-led campaign.

Saudi Arabia joined other Gulf nations and allies in a military campaign Thursday against the Iran-backed Houths, who have completely overrun most of Yemen in the last seven months.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said in a press conference that Saudi Arabia has gained complete control of Yemeni airspace after knocking out Houthi air defense and fighter jets.

Asiri said there were no plans to add ground troops to the campaign, but said that they could be deployed if necessary. The Saudis also said they were coordinating with forces in Yemen that support President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

The Saudis carried out the first of its airstrikes Thursday and were later joined by its ally the United Arab Emirates, Asiri said. Other coalition members include Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Egypt.

Friday’s strikes by Saudi Arabian Apache helicopters hit Houthi targets in the northern part of the country. Warplanes also assaulted the Al Anad air base as they took down other Houthi fighter jets and air defenses, Asiri said.

Violence in Yemen continues to escalate as the Houthis continue to advance throughout the nation. The rebels took the Sanaa in September forcing Hadi to flee. The Houthis continued to spread this week taking over Al Anad and threatened Aden. Hadi fled to Oman by boat and later to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian state media reported Hadi will take part in an Arab League summit Saturday as an official delegate for Yemen. U.A.E.’s state news agency reported that Arab foreign ministers agreed to draft a resolution to create a pan-Arab military force.

U.S. officials fear the continued violence will allow militant groups to fill the security vacuum. Al Qaeda terrorist branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, calls Yemen its home and is believed to be one of the most dangerous groups in the branch.

U.S. Special Forces were cooperating with Hadi to carry out drone strikes against the AQAP from Al Anad. However, the escalating violence forced the U.S. to pull out.

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