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Trump administration endorses Gulf nations' efforts to protect civilians in Yemen

An injured child at a local hospital on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 in the province of Saada, Yemen Saudi-led coalition air strikes hit buses, the head of Saada Health Office Yahya Shayem told Xinhua.

HASSAN/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS

By MISSY RYAN | The Washington Post | Published: September 12, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday formally endorsed the efforts of key Persian Gulf allies to protect civilians in Yemen, signaling its support in a new report to Congress for Arab partners despite widespread criticism of their role in that country's civil war.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had informed lawmakers that the Trump administration had "certified" that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been battling Yemen's Houthi militants with U.S. assistance since 2015, are taking "demonstrable actions" to reduce harm to noncombatants.

Doing so allows the Trump administration, under a new law linking those countries' conduct in Yemen to U.S. military aid, to continue aerial refueling of Saudi and UAE jets as they conduct bombing raids against the Houthis.

"The Trump administration has been clear that ending the conflict in Yemen is a national security priority," Pompeo said. "We will continue to work closely with the Saudi-led coalition to ensure Saudi Arabia and the UAE maintain support for U.N.-led efforts to end the civil war in Yemen," allow aid deliveries and protect civilians, he said.

The announcement culminates an intense debate within the Trump administration about whether to publicly endorse the gulf nations' handling of the war. Opposition to their conduct, and U.S. support for the coalition, has grown in recent weeks amid a series of airstrikes killing dozens of Yemeni children.

Aid officials have continued to sound the alarm meanwhile about the war's impact on Yemen's most vulnerable. The conflict has exacerbated hunger and disease in what was already the Arab world's poorest country, and some critics blame the coalition for contributing to suffering by making it more difficult to import needed food and medicine.

While U.S. officials have called for a negotiated end to the war, there are few signs that a peace settlement is within reach. The Trump administration has consistently expressed support for helping Saudi Arabia defend itself against attacks by the Houthis, who both Washington and Riyadh believe are strengthened by Iranian support.

In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went even farther than Pompeo in his backing for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, saying the gulf partners were "making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from their military operations to end the civil war in Yemen."

The Washington Post's John Hudson and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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