‘This war has to end’ — Biden halts U.S. support for offensive military operations in Yemen

An armed man gestures as he stands on the rubble of houses destroyed by an airstrike near Sanaa Airport in Yemen, March 26, 2015.

Khaled Abdullah | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced on Thursday the end of U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen and named a new envoy to oversee the nation’s diplomatic mission to end the civil war there, part of a broader foreign policy address highlighting greater U.S. engagement in the world.

“This war has to end,” Biden said during his first address on foreign policy as president. “We are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen including relevant arms sales.”

“At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks and UAV strikes and other threats from Iranian supplied forces in multiple countries,” Biden said. “We are going to continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”

The president tapped Tim Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary of State for Iran, Iraq, and regional affairs, to oversee the U.S. diplomatic mission to end the war in Yemen.

“I have asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations’ initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels and restore long-dormant peace talks,” Biden said.

“Tim’s diplomacy will be bolstered by USAID working to ensure humanitarian aid is reaching the Yemeni people who are suffering an unendurable devastation,” Biden said.

U.S. will still target Al Qaeda

However, Biden’s policy ending support for offensive operations will not extend to military actions taken by the U.S. against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region, known as AQAP.

“It does not extend to actions against AQAP, which are actions we undertake in service of protecting the homeland and protecting American interests in the region and allies and partners,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at a White House press briefing earlier on Thursday.

“It extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis,” Sullivan explained.

The U.S. has informed Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of its decision, Sullivan said.

He added that the Biden administration halted sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia in order to assess potential human rights abuses.

The Yemen civil war escalated in 2014 when Houthi forces, who are in alliance with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over the nation’s capital.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have carried out attacks in Yemen against the Houthis. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen had previously enjoyed the backing of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump vetoed a measure in 2019 aimed at ending U.S. military assistance and involvement in Yemen. At the time Trump said the congressional resolution was “unnecessary” and that it endangered “the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.”

Lawmakers who backed the measure criticized Saudi Arabia for a slew of bombing campaigns that contributed to civilian deaths in Yemen.

The United Nations has previously said that the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen has produced the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The U.S. has provided more than $630 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen in fiscal year 2020, according to figures provided by the State department.

CNBC’s Christian Nunley contributed to this report from Virginia.

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