Photographer: Glen Carey/Bloomberg

House to Draw Attention to U.S. role in Yemen

November 7, 2017Roxana Tiron & Gail Ballantyne

This analysis was first available to Bloomberg Government subscribers

The U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen is the focus of a bipartisan House resolution expressing that Congress hasn’t authorized military participation in that Arab country’s civil war.

The House could debate as early as next week the measure, which would “explicitly” acknowledge that the U.S. has been refueling Saudi-led coalition planes and has been providing intelligence assistance against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), said in an interview.

The measure also would state that any intervention by the U.S. in the Yemeni civil war isn’t authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That authorization has served as the legal underpinning for the war in Afghanistan, the subsequent conflict in Syria, and other counter-terrorism operations around the world.

A Navy SEAL was killed and three others were wounded in Yemen in January in the first counterterrorism operation approved by President Donald Trump.

While nonbinding, the purpose of the resolution is to highlight a conflict that the American public and lawmakers have largely ignored. Its sponsors also hope it prompts a broader discussion about U.S. military involvement around the world, including in Niger, where four U.S. special operations soldiers were killed in an ambush in October.

“We have almost 17 countries where we have combat troops, 13 countries where they are in harm’s way,” Khanna, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. “The Department of Defense and the military are certainly aware that people in Congress are asking questions, that leadership is asking questions, and that they are going to have to really explain what we are doing,” he said. “There is a genuine concern on both sides of the aisle about the humanitarian disaster there.”

The war in Yemen is an entirely separate war from the fight against al-Qaeda, the argument for the 2001 AUMF, “yet Congress has never authorized it,” Khanna said in a statement.

The Defense Department operates under congressional authority to conduct aerial refueling operations and support intelligence-gathering cooperation with the anti-Houthi alliance, according to Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman. The U.S. military is also authorized to conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists, Rankine-Galloway said.

Khanna worked with Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on the original resolution (H. Con. Res. 81) that has 40 co-sponsors and contained tougher language directing a Yemen pullout. The as-yet-unnumbered version they hope to bring to the House floor is the result of leadership involvement, according to Khanna. The offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were all involved in crafting “compromise language that could come to the floor and that could get the buy-in,” Khanna said.

Still, the non-binding resolution is a letdown for Republican co-sponsor, Jones, who argues that Congress has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to debate and authorize war operations.

“Around here it’s probably a small victory,” Jones said in an interview. “All in all, if it’s a non-binding debate that negates what’s important. It’s not what Congress should do.”

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