US House approves full American withdrawal from Yemen

The Senate is expected to narrowly vote in favour but US President Donald Trump has the power to veto the resolution

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2017 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels chant slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters into battlefronts to fight pro-government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen. Moroccan government officials said Thursday Feb. 7, 2019 that Morocco has stopped taking part in military action with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s war, and has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
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In an unprecedented move, the US House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a resolution halting the US role in Yemen and directly challenging President Donald Trump’s military leadership.

Eighteen Republicans joined 235 Democrats in the House late on Wednesday in voting a bill under the War Powers Act that effectively puts an end to US military role in Yemen. The bill, endorsed by 248 out of 425 representatives, marks the first time Congress seeks to block a President’s unchecked military powers. The Senate is expected to vote in the coming weeks, where the resolution may pass by a narrow margin. A parallel resolution was passed by the Senate late last year in a 56-to-41 vote.

If the resolution is not vetoed, it would effectively put an end to US military role in Yemen. While there are no official numbers, the US is known to have troops on the ground in the war-torn country, mainly to fight Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). US troops have carried joint operations with the UAE against the extremist group. But the resolution dubbed as "Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen", was amended to exempt forces fighting AQAP from leaving.

It called for removal "United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al-Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution."

The resolution, however, includes an amendment that allows US intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia despite it ending its military role. The Trump administration stopped refuelling Saudi coalition planes last fall, but intelligence sharing and other logistical support have been ongoing.

If approved by the Senate, the resolution will still need Mr Trump’s signature to become law. The US President threatened to veto such bill, also a first in Trump’s presidency.

The bill is seen as a reaction to the ongoing relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia despite the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, told The National that the resolution is "meant to be a shot across the bow directed against Mr Trump's relationship with Saudi Arabia." "The House is trying to assert dominance over the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the war in Yemen is a low-hanging fruit to fuel that effort" he said.

Concerning the bill’s potential impact on Yemen, Mr Heras argued that “this resolution will accomplish nothing to end hostilities between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, and in fact, it may backfire.” The analyst said he feared that “it will weaken efforts to get the Houthis to the negotiating table in the UN-led peace process, and war may get worse because Saudi Arabia would then have no US constraints on its air campaign.”

UN Envoy Martin Griffiths has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Sanaa, Riyadh and Muscat, trying to salvage the Stockholm agreement in December and calling for a ceasefire in Hodeidah.