US halts some Saudi arms sales over Yemen deaths concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is terminating some sales of military arms to Saudi Arabia over concerns about the killing of civilians in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday, while ramping up support for Saudi’s border defenses and other intelligence-sharing.

The decision to pull back planned sales of precision-guided munitions stems from a review ordered by the White House in October following the bombing of a funeral hall in Yemen that killed more than 140 people, thrusting longstanding concerns about civilian casualties into the spotlight. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

Human rights groups have said the Saudis have targeted houses, hospitals and schools, and have pressured the U.S. to withdraw support for the Saudi coalition, which is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In addition to halting the sales of munitions, the Obama administration is curbing some intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia that could be used in ways that would lead to civilian casualties, officials said, though they declined to offer details. The U.S. also is looking to “refocus” the training it conducts for Saudi Arabia’s air force to address U.S. concerns about how the Saudis choose their targets.

Other U.S. support for Saudi’s coalition will continue unimpeded, including refueling of coalition aircraft by the U.S. military. And the U.S. is increasing the amount of information and analysis it shares with Saudi Arabia about threats to the Saudi border, reflecting Saudi concerns about extremists crossing over the border from Yemen to launch attacks inside Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis are leading a coalition of mostly Arab countries fighting on behalf of an internationally recognized government in Yemen, against Houthi rebels that the U.S. says are receiving arms supplies from Iran. The conflict began in March 2015 and has killed roughly 9,000 people, creating a humanitarian crisis and famine conditions in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation.