U.S. Military Sends $331 Million Bill to Saudi Arabia, UAE for Aerial Refueling in Yemen War, Cites ‘Accounting Error’

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Saudi soldiers stand guard before aid supplies are unloaded from a Saudi air force cargo plane at an airfield in Yemen's central province of Marib, on March 12, 2018.( Credit: Abdullah Al-Qadry/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi soldiers stand guard before aid supplies are unloaded from a Saudi air force cargo plane at an airfield in Yemen's central province of Marib, on March 12, 2018.( Credit: Abdullah Al-Qadry/AFP/Getty Images)

The US military is seeking a $331 million reimbursement from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after discovering it failed to properly charge the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen for aerial refueling services due to an “accounting error,” the Pentagon said Thursday.

While the US decided last month that it would no longer refuel Saudi aircraft conducting strike missions over Yemen, the Pentagon still expects to be compensated for the outstanding costs accrued between March 2015 and November of this year.

Specifically, the US is working to recoup approximately $36.8 million for fuel and $294.3 million for flight hours, according to Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, who noted that partners have been individually notified about how much they owe.

“US Central Command reviewed its records and found errors in accounting where we failed to charge the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) adequately for fuel and refueling services. USCENTCOM calculated the correct charges, and Department of Defense is in the process of seeking reimbursement,” she said in a statement to CNN.

It was a mistake that was first reported last week by The Atlantic and uncovered during a probe by Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said Thursday he is encouraged that the Pentagon is now taking steps to recover the funds for US taxpayers.

“This is good news for US taxpayers and underscores the need for strong oversight of the Department of Defense. The American people should not be forced to bear these costs and I am encouraged DOD is taking steps to get full reimbursement,” Reed said in a statement.

But while Reed commended the Pentagon for correcting its accounting mistake, he also made clear that the larger issue remains the ongoing conflict in Yemen between the coalition and Houthi rebels that has “resulted in the largest humanitarian disaster facing the world in recent memory.”

“The Trump Administration and international community must capitalize on the progress that has been made during the Yemen peace talks in Sweden,” Reed said in a statement. “It must be made clear to both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis that there is no military solution to this conflict and the time has come to reach a sustainable negotiated settlement.”

“It is time for this war to stop,” he added.

In a statement Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commended the progress made during the Yemen talks in Sweden, calling the announcement of a ceasefire in the besieged rebel port city of Hodeidah, a “pivotal first step.”

“All parties have an opportunity to build upon this momentum and improve the lives of all Yemenis. Moving forward, all must continue to engage, de-escalate tensions, and cease ongoing hostilities. This is the best way to give these and future consultations a chance to succeed,” he said.

But as talks continue, the Senate made clear on Thursday that it wants to end US involvement in the conflict.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a resolution by a 56-41 vote that would require the US to end its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a move aimed both at ending that war and expressing anger at the Trump administration’s handling of relations with Saudi Arabia.

While the US no longer refuels coalition aircraft, the US military does provide the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence focused on helping to defend against Houthi cross border missile and drone attacks. US personnel in Saudi Arabia also advise the coalition on processes and procedures and the law of armed conflict, efforts the Pentagon says are aimed at helping to prevent civilian casualties.

The vote on the Yemen resolution reflected the frustration senators from parties both have with the vast human suffering from the war and President Donald Trump’s embrace of the crown prince despite widely accepted evidence from US intelligence agencies that he ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, utilized the War Powers Act to attempt to force an end to US involvement in the war, even as GOP leaders argued it wasn’t necessary because the US was not directly involved in combat and had stopped refueling war planes from Saudi Arabia and other counties in its coalition.

Despite the broad support in the Senate, the GOP-led House is not expected to take a vote on it, meaning the legislation will die at the end of the year when the current congressional session ends.

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