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People protest the aerial attacks carried out by jet crafts of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia targeting a prison in the Houthi strong-hold Saadah Province, on January 22, 2022 in Sa'ada, Yemen.

People protest the aerial attacks carried out by jet crafts of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia targeting a prison in the Houthi strong-hold Saadah Province, on January 22, 2022 in Sa'ada, Yemen. Aerial attacks carried out by jet crafts of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia targeted a prison leaving at least 90 prisoners killed and over 100 others injured. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

Dems Demand Biden Stop Maintaining Saudi Jets Causing 'Untold Suffering' in Yemen

"Continued servicing of these jets could make the United States complicit in these likely war crimes," tweeted Rep. Tom Malinowski.

Andrea Germanos

A group of 12 House Democrats is urging President Joe Biden to suspend a contract that keeps Saudi warplanes maintained and able to cause "untold suffering" on the people of Yemen.

The letter to Biden, led by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), comes amid an escalation in the Saudi-led coalition's bombing of Yemen and on the same day United Nations officials warned that the civilian death toll from the bombing campaign could break records this month.

"In the last few days," the lawmakers wrote, "the Saudi-led coalition has further intensified its strikes on civilian targets, including a migrant detention center and telecommunications facilities, killing over 70 and injuring over 100 noncombatants."

The warplanes conducting the strikes, they continued, "are sustained and kept flying under a contract approved by the United States government."

"Continued servicing of these jets," Malinowski added in a tweet sharing the letter, "could make the United States complicit in these likely war crimes."

Biden pledged last year to end U.S. support for "offensive operations" in the Saudi-led war on Yemen—an announcement that followed sustained demands from grassroots groups that such support be ended but that begged the question of how "offensive" would be defined. 

As Vox outlined last year:

[W]ith its own money and at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer, uses a U.S. government program to procure maintenance for its warplanes. (That service likely was included when the Saudis bought the American-made warplanes.) It may not be the U.S. military providing direct support, then, but the service was still greenlit by the U.S.

This doesn't please critics of the war and America's role in it. A Democratic congressional aide complained, "Oh, great, the 'they're civilian contractors' line," adding that a U.S.-approved service to provide maintenance and spare parts for Saudi aircraft is tantamount to America backing Riyadh's offensive plans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)—one of the signatories to the new letter—put forth an amendment to the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have, among other things, barred American contractors from providing maintenance on any Saudi warplanes.

"The provision would have grounded the fighter jets," The Intercept reported in December, "effectively lifting the blockade and winding down Saudi Arabia's capacity to wage the war." The measure, however, was ultimately not included in the NDAA.

Khanna, who's been a fierce critic of the bombing campaign, suggested Saturday that a series of airstrikes that took place a day earlier, including one blamed for killing at least three children in a soccer field, must serve as a turning point for the U.S. role in the yearslong conflict.

In a tweet, Khanna asked: "If bombing children playing soccer isn't enough reason to end U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, what is?"

Humanitarian groups like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) also continue to sound alarm about the escalating crisis and ever-increasing death toll.

"Mounting civilian casualties in Yemen demand renewed and urgent attention from global leaders," said Stephanie Puccetti, IRC Yemen's Deputy Director for Programs, in a statement Wendesday in which she decried airstrikes that "have become a daily occurrence in Sana'a and other cities," leaving "civilian sites and public infrastructure... damaged and destroyed."

"Obligations enshrined in international humanitarian law are being neglected by all sides and civilians continue to bear the brunt of this conflict," she said.

Global leaders, said Puccetti, must "re-double diplomatic efforts to reduce the impact of the war on civilians," as she encouraged "all parties to de-escalate, engage with the U.N. Special Envoy, and make meaningful commitments to advance peace."

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