U.S. weighs boosting military aid to Saudis

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The United States is considering ways to boost military support for the Saudi-led fight against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, believing military pressure is needed to prod the militants into a negotiated end to the conflict, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The U.S. already is helping the Saudis by providing intelligence and aerial refueling of their combat aircraft. But the coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates, has failed to defeat the rebels known as the Houthis. The rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen in 2014.

International calls for an end to the conflict are intensifying amid rising civilian casualties. Health groups warn the Arab world’s poorest country is on the brink of famine.

But the Trump administration is considering how to help the Saudis advance their campaign, according to officials, who briefed reporters on condition they not be quoted by name. The assistance could involve more intelligence support but won’t include a commitment of U.S. ground troops, they said, adding that any moves would reflect the administration’s effort to aggressively counter what it sees as Iran’s malign influence across the region.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who met King Salman and other top Saudi officials Tuesday and Wednesday, has complained about Iran sending missiles to the Houthis, who’ve then used them to fire across the Yemen’s border into Saudi Arabia.

“Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis said after his meetings Wednesday. “So right now, what we’re seeing is the nations in the region and others elsewhere trying to checkmate Iran and the amount of disruption and instability they can cause.”

A day after certifying that Iran was upholding last year’s nuclear accord, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the litany of American complaints about Tehran: its alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad, support for Iraqi militant groups, threats to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, cyberattacks against the U.S. and backing for groups threatening Israel’s security.