US welcomes Saudi pledge to wind down Yemen air war

2016-03-18 07:05
A young Yemeni soldier. (Hani Mohammed, AP)

A young Yemeni soldier. (Hani Mohammed, AP)

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Washington - The White House on Thursday welcomed a pledge from a Saudi-led coalition to wind down the air war in Yemen, an announcement that could dial back tensions between Riyadh and Washington before President Barack Obama visits.

Amid controversy over an airstrike that killed 119 people - including 22 children - White House spokesperson Josh Earnest welcomed a coalition statement that the year-old campaign against Iran-backed Huthi rebels was nearing the "end of the major combat phase".

"We have expressed our concerns about the loss of innocent life in Yemen, the violence there that is plaguing that country has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire," Earnest said.

"We would welcome and do welcome the statement from coalition spokesperson Saudi General Ahmed al-Assiri who indicated today that major operations in Yemen are coming to an end and that the coalition will work on 'long-term plans' to bring stability to the country."

Al-Assiri told AFP earlier that "in any military campaign you have phases". "Today," he said, "we are in the end of the major combat phase".

While the United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to the operation, the White House has privately expressed anger about the loss of civilian lives.

The support includes targeting assistance, which officials say make strikes less indiscriminate.

"The support we provide we think is helping to prevent civilian casualties," a US defence official said.

"Absent the intel and precision guided munitions we provide, the civilian casualties would be worse."

That view holds little sway with rights organisations who argue a US pullback could cause Saudi Arabia to end or scale back the operation.

The issue was likely to feature prominently during Obama's April 21 visit to Saudi Arabia.

Earnest said the United States would "continue to monitor the situation", but pointed to "initial reports of de-escalation along the Saudi-Yemen border".

The White House also urged a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

"We have long made the case that Yemen is in dire need of a political solution, and that that political solution needs to come as soon as possible," Earnest said.

"That's why we have continued to urge all parties return to UN facilitated peace talks."

Read more on:    barack obama  |  yemen  |  saudi arabia  |  us

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