President Biden will end U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, his national security adviser announced Thursday — marking a withdrawal from support for a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the war-torn country.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden will “announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen.”
Biden will make the announcement as part of a wide-ranging speech at the State Department on Thursday afternoon.
“That is a promise he made in the campaign that he will be following through on,” Sullivan said during a White House press briefing.
As an example, he pointed to the stopping of two arms sales of precision-guided munitions that were moving forward under the last administration.
The civil war, which has been ongoing since 2015, has led to the deaths of 112,000 people and has obliterated the country’s infrastructure. U.N. estimates say 13.5 million Yemenis face food insecurity.
Sullivan also said that Biden will announce the naming of a special envoy. The Associated Press reported that Biden will appoint Timothy Lenderking, a career foreign service member who has served in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
“[Biden] will talk about the United States playing a more active and engaged role in diplomacy to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen and that will include the naming of a special envoy which will happen today,” Sullivan said.
The civil war began in 2015 when Saudi began the offensive against the Houthis, who had seized territory and launched missiles across the border into Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. has, until recently, backed the Saudis in the conflict and Trump-era Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had imposed sanctions on the Houthis in the final days of the administration, designating them a “foreign terrorist organization” (FTO). That move was part of the administration’s efforts to isolate Iran and also support the Saudis in the region.
However, since taking office, the Biden administration has suspended some of the sanctions attached to that designation until Feb. 26 — although it hasn’t yet reversed the designation. A U.N. report warned that the designation of the Houthis as an FTO could harm aid and food deliveries into the country, hurting the peace process and exacerbating malnutrition.
That report by a panel of experts painted a grim situation of the crisis.
“The situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate, with devastating consequences for the civilian population,” it said.
It accuses all parties involved of “continuous and widespread human rights and international law violations with impunity; and escalations in fighting and its impact on civilians, including displacements.”
“All parties continue to commit egregious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, enforced disappearances and torture,” the report says.
The report also said “there is a growing body of evidence that shows that individuals or entities within the Islamic Republic of Iran are engaged in sending weapons and weapons components to the Houthis” in violation of U.N. resolutions.