WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives on Monday held its first ever debate over U.S. military engagement in the civil war raging in Yemen and passed a non-binding resolution calling on engaged parties to wage the conflict humanely and work toward bringing it to an end.
The resolution condemns Iran’s role in the war. It calls on Saudi Arabia to not bomb schools, hospitals or other targets on its no-strike list — as it has — and to broadly improve targeting.
The U.S. is supporting a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the conflict, with intelligence, aerial refueling and the sale of weapons. Saudi Arabia is backing supporters of ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against rebels called the Houthis, who are backed by Iran and allied with militants supporting former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The House resolution explicitly states that the war authorizations passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and that passed before the 2003 invasion of Iraq do not extend to the Yemeni civil war.
The resolution does not address whether U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict triggers the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a point that lawmakers are split over.
“What our military is not authorized to do is assist the Saudi Arabian regime in fighting the Houthis,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said from the House floor. “In many cases, the Saudis have aligned with al-Qaeda to fight the Houthis undermining our very counterterrorism operations.”
Khanna co-sponsored the resolution with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the resolution a bipartisan win and an improvement upon the initially proposed resolution, which made no mention of Iran and stated that “the United States Armed Forces have been involved in hostilities between Saudi-led forces and the Houthi-Saleh alliance.”
“Though the United States provides logistics to out Saudi partners in the region, United States forces are not conducting hostilities against Houthi forces in Yemen,” Royce said from the House floor, including that his position does not mean the conflict is “immune from our scrutiny.”
Other lawmakers lamented the cost of the U.S. role in the conflict and U.S. complicity in Saudi atrocities.
The conflict in Yemen has destroyed the nation’s health, water and sanitation systems, and helped fuel one of the largest cholera outbreaks in the past 50 years. On top of access challenges driven by conflict, a blockade on the country by a Saudi-led military coalition has humanitarian groups nervous that aid won’t reach some two-thirds of the population considered to be food insecure.
Royce said the resolution is meant to pressure the “Saudis to take those steps to reopen access to those ports” and to get the Houthis to respect the neutrality of aid.
The conflict began in 2015 when the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and the Yemeni government.