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US lawmaker questions Washington's weapons shipments to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee raises concern over recent reports Saudi-led coalition transferred US-made arms to militant groups in Yemen
War in Yemen has killed thousands of people and pushed millions to brink of starvation (AFP/File photo)

A key United States lawmaker asked whether Congress should consider more restrictions on weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen after recent media reports that US-made weapons had been transferred to militant groups in the war-torn country.

Democratic congressman Eliot Engel, who chairs the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday he was troubled by reports about illicit weapons transfers in Yemen.

"These reports are very troubling and the Trump administration must investigate further and work to prevent this from happening again," Engel said at a hearing.

Saudi coalition handed over US arms to hardline militants in Yemen: Report
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"Should Congress pursue greater restrictions on offensive weapons to the Saudi coalition?" he asked.

As chairman of the House committee, Engel has the right to review and put "holds" on major foreign weapons sales, Reuters reported.

The US State Department, meanwhile, said it was investigating the allegations.

"We are aware of these reports and seeking additional information," a department official said, adding that all such reports are taken seriously, Reuters reported.

CNN reported on Tuesday that heavy weaponry sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was passed down to hardline militias as part of both countries' war effort in Yemen.

Some of these arms were later captured by Houthi rebels after they were left abandoned or sold to other groups, the US network said.

Abu Dhabi and Riyadh had reportedly sought to use the arms transfers to curry favour and loyalty among local groups fighting in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive, backed by the UAE and other partners, in Yemen in 2015 to root out the country's Houthi rebels, who had taken over the capital, Sanaa, and ousted Yemen's Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Yemen has since been plunged into a dire humanitarian catastrophe, with thousands killed and disease and malnutrition widespread.

Pressure to end US involvement in Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition has been under pressure to end its bombing campaign in Yemen, especially after heightened scrutiny was placed on Saudi leaders in the aftermath of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

US President Donald Trump's administration has been widely criticised amid ongoing calls from politicians and human rights groups to end Washington's involvement in the devastating war.

Late last month, members of Congress announced they would re-introduce a bill requiring the Trump administration to stop providing logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition's war efforts in Yemen.

On Wednesday, the House committee chaired by Engel voted 25 to 17, along party lines, in favour of that resolution, Reuters reported.

The US military provides intelligence and logistics support to Saudi forces, and up until recently, it was also assisting with mid-air refuelling of Saudi jets.

In December, a similar bill cleared the Senate in a 56-41 vote but was blocked by the House, which was then under the control of Republicans.

Last month, Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California who has been at the forefront of calls to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, said the reintroduced bill has the backing of the current House leadership.

He said it is expected to come up for a full vote in February.

"There’s no complex foreign policy; it’s a matter of human decency and this resolution will make it clear that the coalition should stop the bombing campaign and come to the table and negotiate," Khanna said.