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lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen war

50 anti-war groups are urging lawmakers to use the annual defense program bill to finish all U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s war.

In a letter being sent Monday, the organizations turn lawmakers to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to “legislate an end to ongoing U.S. complicity within the war and blockade in Yemen.”

“By suspending the sale of arms and ending U.S. participation within the Saudi coalition’s war and blockade, Congress can prevent a humanitarian catastrophe from spiraling further out of control because it reasserts its constitutional authority on matters of war and peace,” the 56 organizations wrote within the letter, a draft of which was obtained.

The letter comes before the home is expected to think about its version of the NDAA later in the week and provides a tacit backing of an amendment to the bill filed by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

More than 800 amendments are filed for this year’s NDAA, and typically only a fraction receive floor votes. But supporters of Khanna’s amendment say they expect it’ll make it to the ground.

“With the assistance of U.S. logistical and maintenance support, Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen has created untold suffering for tens of many people and contributed to many thousands of deaths,” Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the buddies Committee on National Legislation, one among the letter’s organizers, said during a statement.

“It’s now critical Congress support Rep. Khanna’s amendment to the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act and eventually terminates U.S. participation in Saudi’s aerial operations for the sake of many Yemenis in desperate need,” El-Tayyab added. “Members of Congress have two choices: vote for this amendment, or vote for a lively U.S. role in crimes against humanity for many people, including children.”

U.S. lawmakers in both parties in recent years are increasingly against the Saudi-led war in Yemen as civilian casualties from coalition bombing run mount and a blockade exacerbate humanitarian catastrophes including famine and disease.

In 2019, Congress voted to finish U.S. support for the Saudi coalition, but then-President Trump vetoed the measure and lawmakers couldn’t muster the two-thirds support needed to override him.

In February, President Biden announced he was ending U.S. military support for “offensive” Saudi operations in Yemen, but stressed us remains committed to Saudi Arabia’s defense.

Since then, the Biden administration has been vague about how it defines offensive versus defensive operations. And critics hold that the U.S. support that has continued, like aircraft maintenance, still enables offensive operations.

Khanna’s amendment would bar funding for “logistical support within the sort of maintenance or the transfer of spare parts for aircraft that enable coalition strikes against the Houthis in Yemen,” consistent with the text of the amendment.

It would also block funding for “sharing intelligence for the aim of enabling coalition strikes against the Houthis,” also as for the U.S. military to “command, coordinate, participate within the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of the Saudi-led coalition forces.”

“While the Biden administration has made important progress in curbing U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, U.S. taxpayer dollars still bankroll the upkeep and spare parts for Saudi warplanes raining bombs on Yemeni men, women, and youngsters amidst the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. This must end,” Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during a joint statement earlier this month about the amendment.

The House approved similar NDAA amendments in 2019 and 2020, but they were stripped out during negotiations with the Senate on the ultimate version of the bills that were signed into law.

In addition to Khanna’s amendment, a more narrow amendment has been filed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) that might suspend U.S. sustainment and maintenance support to Saudi air force units found to be liable for airstrikes that caused civilian casualties.

The Meeks amendment would also provide exceptions for territorial self-defense, counterterrorism operations, and defense of U.S. government facilities or personnel.

While the letter advocacy groups are sending Congress on Monday doesn’t explicitly back one amendment over the opposite, signatories dismissed “half measures” and voiced their support for Khanna’s amendment.

“Without real action, many lives are in danger, and the U.S. is going to be complicit,” Marcus Stanley, advocacy director at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said during a statement. “The Khanna amendment offers a chance to genuinely end American support for Saudi aggression and take an important step to finish the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We urge a vote for this amendment. Half measures like reporting requirements or partial restrictions won’t do, it’s time to definitively end our support for this war.

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