Congress should exercise its constitutional authority by deciding whether to continue U.S. involvement in the civil war in Yemen, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont lawmaker, an independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, is a frequent critic of the president's Mideast policies.
“I have strong concerns that the Trump administration is getting the U.S. more involved in a war in Yemen without congressional authorization,” Sanders told his Twitter followers. “I'll be seeking further clarification on these activities. We must prevent the U.S. from getting dragged into another never-ending war.”
The tweet came in response to a report by The New York Times about a covert Green Beret mission on the border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Congress did not have an opportunity to discuss or approve the operation before it began in late 2017.
Sanders is not the only voice on Capitol Hill seeking answers. Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, noting that “our troops continue to see their involvement increase in the Saudi-led war against the Houthis,” called the covert mission “an unconstitutional and unauthorized use of military force.”
The Times, citing U.S. officials and European diplomats as its sources, reported that about 12 “commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities.” The sources said U.S. personnel are training Saudi Arabian soldiers, as well.
The operation appears to violate the Pentagon's pledge to help the Saudi efforts in Yemen only by refueling airplanes, providing logistical information and sharing intelligence data. The United States “is illegally and directly involved in the genocidal war against impoverished Yemen,” wrote Ahmad Algohbary, a freelance reporter in the embattled country.
In February, a group of Democratic and Republican senators introduced a bill calling for the United States to abandon its role in the conflict. The measure's lead sponsors were Sanders, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, and Utah Republican Mike Lee. They pointed to the 1973 War Powers Act, which affirmed Congress' role in declaring war.
The three senators' legislation conceded that the U.S. military should continue fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen, but demanded an end to U.S. support of the Saudi bombing campaign. “This is one of the great humanitarian disasters of our time,” Sanders said in an interview with the news site Vox.
“We have a set of processes that have to be followed,” Lee explained. “If advocates for this war within our government are confident that this is that important to America’s national security interest, then they should bring forward those arguments and ask for an authorization. But without that, we have no business getting involved in someone else’s civil war.”
In March, the GOP-controlled Senate defeated the bill by a vote of 55-44. The same day, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman met with Trump in Washington, D.C.
The president's administration had urged lawmakers to reject the legislation. Defense Secretary James Mattis, in a letter to Congress, argued that suspending military assistance to the Saudi-led offensive “could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.”
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since President Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2011. The nation's second-ranking leader, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, failed to carry out a successful transition process. He faced obstacles such as al-Qaeda terrorist attacks and an independence movement in the southern part of the country, as well as food shortages and unemployment. A number of military leaders were reluctant to shift their support from Saleh to Hadi.
In 2015, the opposition forced the president to move to Aden, in southern Yemen. Soon thereafter, he fled the country. Though Hadi's government is still operating out of Aden, he has not been able to return to his homeland.
The Houthi movement represents Yemen's Shia Muslim minority, although among the group's allies are some of the country's Sunnis. Saudi Arabia, which claims the rebels are aligned with Iran, heads a nine-nation coalition that has been dropping bombs on civilian populations for three years. England and France, as well as the United States, are providing logistical assistance and intelligence information.
The Saudis have pummeled Yemen with more than 145,000 missions. A Saudi general told The Wall Street Journal that about 100,000 of the operations involved combat activities, including bombing raids.
The result is a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations has described as “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.” More than 14,000 people reportedly have died, largely due to air strikes and starvation. About 20 million of Yemen's 28 million residents lack basic human needs like food and water. About a million people are suffering from cholera.