The White House wants to stay the course in Yemen even as the Senate is set to push back against US military support to the Saudi-led bombing campaign. But now a bombshell report reveals the Pentagon has been fueling Saudi and UAE jets free of charge due to "errors in accounting where DoD failed to charge" according to US defense officials.
The huge significance is summarized in the opening lines of The Atlantic report which broke the story over the weekend:
President Donald Trump, who repeatedly complains that the United States is paying too much for the defense of its allies, has praised Saudi Arabia for ostensibly taking on Iran in the Yemen war. It turns out, however, that U.S. taxpayers have been footing the bill for a major part of the Saudi-led campaign, possibly to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
For the entire three-and-a-half years of the program, the Pentagon never had an official servicing agreement in place with the Saudis and further never informed Congress.
The vital refueling role that the US military has played in the war goes back to March 2015 and is reported to be "enormously expensive". The recipient country, in this case the Saudis, is required by law to pay the costs but the Pentagon now admits "they in fact had not been charged adequately" in an official DoD letter obtained by The Atlantic.
The Pentagon is now “currently calculating the correct charges” but it's unclear if the missing funds going back years — footed by the American taxpayer — will ever be obtained especially as the DoD doesn't even know what it's owed.
Information on the "accounting errors" began to emerge after Senators asked defense officials last March to account for Saudi coalition refueling costs. After eight months, just a day ahead of the Nov. 28 Senate vote to debate ending the war in Yemen, the Pentagon admitted it could answer this question.
Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Atlantic that likely "tens of millions of dollars" worth of fuel was supplied to the Saudi coalition for free. However, this figure (again which the Pentagon says it can't account for) is possibly in the hundreds of millions, considering the following:
Records provided by the Defense Logistics Agency this March indicated that since the start of fiscal year 2015 (October 2014), more than 7.5 million gallons of aerial refueling had been provided to the UAE, and more than 1 million gallons to the Saudis. Those figures were for all aerial refueling, not necessarily only related to operations in Yemen.
“It is clear that the Department has not lived up to its obligation to keep Congress appropriately informed or its responsibility to secure timely reimbursement,” Sen. Reed told The Atlantic. “U.S.-provided aerial refueling assistance was provided to the Saudi-led coalition for more than 3.5 years, activities that likely cost tens of millions of dollars. We must ensure that U.S. taxpayers are fully reimbursed for that support.”
So it's clear that not only has the United States given the Saudis a "free pass" politically while tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been massacred over the years, but has literally been funding the Saudi military machine for free, despite Riyadh's immense oil wealth. And further the obvious question that remains is... whatever happened to "America first?"