US House calls military's role in Yemen civil war unauthorized
The U.S. House unanimously passed a non-binding resolution Monday asserting U.S. military assistance to Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels is not covered by previous war authorizations.
The measure, which passed 366-30, reflects a bipartisan compromise with lawmakers who had sought a vote to withdraw U.S. military support for Saudi involvement in the Yemen civil war. The measure does not go as far as that, but it does note that Congress has not authorized the use of military force for parties in the conflict outside previous war authorizations, such as the Shiite Houthi rebels.
“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  Authorization of Use of Military Force or the  Authorization of Use of Military Force in Iraq,” the resolution states.
Congress has yet to make any definitive moves of late to reassert its war powers, but there have been growing rumblings under President Donald Trump in recent weeks. The resolution came a day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., held a hearing Tuesday on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear attack.
Amid controversy over the deaths of four American troops in Niger, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hosted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month for a hearing on the AUMFs used to cover current conflicts.
“Our military, under the 2001 authorization of force, has the full authority to take counterterrorism measures against al-Qaeda [in Yemen],” California Democratic Rep Ro Khanna, a lead voice behind the resolution and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said during Monday’s floor debate.
“But what our military is not authorized to do is to assist the Saudi Arabian regime in fighting the Houthis. In many cases, the Saudis have aligned with al-Qaeda to fight the Houthis, undermining our very counterterrorism operations,” Khanna said.
The resolution does acknowledge the U.S. since the war began in 2015 has provided midair refueling services to the Saudi-led coalition conducting aerial bombings in Yemen.
It also condemns the targeting of civilian populations in Yemen and calls on all sides to “increase efforts to adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent civilian casualties and increase humanitarian access.” Furthermore, the resolution expresses support for Saudi efforts to avoid civilian casualties and abide by its no-target list.
While the U.S. has been providing logistics and intelligence aid in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels, the conflict has claimed the lives of 3,700 civilians, according to United Nations data.
The resolution also acknowledges the conflict has become a humanitarian disaster, and “calls on all parties to the conflict to increase efforts to adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent civilian casualties and to increase humanitarian access.”
The resolution contains language acknowledging the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, and asserting the U.S. has longstanding strategic interests in Yemen.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said the resolution balances the priorities of the lower chamber.
“Some say the U.S. should distance itself from longstanding military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council partners, but this would only strengthen Iran’s malign influence in the region and would not solve the longstanding humanitarian crisis,” Royce said.
The coalition closed all Yemen air, land and sea ports last week in response to a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.
The war, which has killed 10,000 civilians, caused famine to spread to parts of the country. U.N. figures show there are 17 million people who are hungry. Nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s children need humanitarian assistance while 2.2 million children suffer from acute malnutrition. Around 14.5 million people do not have access to clean water and sanitation.
The chance of death from cholera increases if patients already suffer from malnutrition or other health issues.
Last month, U.N. agencies canceled the delivery of a million doses of vaccines, saying it was already too late for the vaccines to act as a preventive measure. Another reason was concern that their uneven distribution in areas under Houthi and government control could fuel the conflict.