It appears that US taxpayers have been paying for a major part of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, according to a US Defense Department letter, cited by The Atlantic on December 8th.
Written by Principal Deputy General Counsel William S. Castle, the letter is dated November 27th and it reveals that the Pentagon “failed” to charge Saudi Arabia and the UAE for refueling their aircraft during the intervention in Yemen. The “accidental giveaway” was presumably caused by an accounting error.
According to the letter, the Pentagon “believed” the Saudi-led coalition “had been charged for the fuel and refueling services, they, in fact, had not been charge adequately.”
The letter does not specify how much it cost US taxpayers, however it did say that the Pentagon was “currently calculating the correct charges” at the time of writing of the letter.
The letter also notes that the mishap was uncovered only after Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) of the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with seven other Democratic senators specifically requested the information on coalition reimbursements from Secretary of Defense James Mattis in March.
“It is clear that the Department has not lived up to its obligation to keep Congress appropriately informed or its responsibility to secure timely reimbursement,” Reed said. “U.S.-provided aerial refueling assistance was provided to the Saudi-led coalition for more than 3.5 years, activities that likely cost tens of millions of dollars. We must ensure that U.S. taxpayers are fully reimbursed for that support.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich confirmed the contents of the letter to the Atlantic:
“Although DoD has received some reimbursement for inflight refueling assistance provided to the Saudi-led coalition (SLC), U.S. Central Command recently reviewed its records and found errors in accounting where DoD failed to charge the SLC adequately for fuel and refueling services.”
When asked how much reimbursement DoD had received from the Saudi-led coalition, Rebarich said that “CENTCOM is still working through the calculation.”
The Saudi and UAE embassies in Washington provided no response to The Atlantic’s request for a comment.
Jeffrey Prescott, who served as senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States on the National Security Council in Barack Obama’s administration and is now a strategic consultant to the Penn Biden Center said:
“This is a striking revelation. President Trump has been exceedingly transactional, even seeming to threaten to cast aside NATO if our closest allies didn’t increase their contributions. That is why it is jarring to see that the Trump administration—save for congressional and public pressure—would continue to refuel Saudi and Emirati aircraft without adequate, if any, reimbursement.”
Overall, the US refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft had been a source of confusion for a while. US officials have spent years trying to pin down details of the arrangements, which are carried out via “acquisition and cross-servicing agreements,” or ACSAs, essentially bilateral treaties between the United States and a partner country that allow for the provision of military and logistical support.
The November 27th letter admits that the US refueled Saudi aircraft without an ACSA during the first year of the Yemen intervention. According to it, the Kingdom was treated as a “third party,” to the Pentagon’s deal with the UAE. Such third-party arrangements are now explicitly prohibited under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.
After the first year, the US drafted a provisional ACSA with the Kingdom, however the Congress was never notified, because Saudi Arabia, several years later hasn’t “fulfilled all of its internal procedures necessary for an Agreement to enter into force.” However, it keeps getting its aircraft refueled, despite there never being any official servicing agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia.
“Evidence exists that the military was, at certain levels, tracking fuel sales. Records provided by the Defense Logistics Agency this March indicated that since the start of fiscal year 2015 (October 2014), more than 7.5 million gallons of aerial refueling had been provided to the UAE, and more than 1 million gallons to the Saudis. Those figures were for all aerial refueling, not necessarily only related to operations in Yemen. Separate DLA data showed that at least some payments had been made by the UAE, though it was unclear to what degree they were tied to operations in Yemen. The Atlantic has asked the DLA whether either set of figures were affected by accounting errors. On Friday [December 7th], the DLA said it was looking into those questions.”
The Government Accountability Office is to release a report on the use of ACSAs, which may shed some light on the issue.
This follows the “conclusion” of the first ever audit of the Pentagon, which ended in failure on November 15th.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan tried to put the best face on things, telling reporters, “We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it.” Shanahan suggested that the DoD should get credit for attempting an audit, saying, “It was an audit on a $2.7 trillion organization, so the fact that we did the audit is substantial.”
Most significantly, $21 trillion of Pentagon financial transactions between 1998 and 2005 could not be traced, document or explained, as revealed by an investigation by Mark Skidmore, a professor of economics specializing in state and local government finance at Michigan State University and two of his graduate students. Essentially, the Pentagon has been carrying out a massive accounting fraud, spanning at least 20 years.
Thus, it appears that Senator Lindsey Graham may be right, and that the US isn’t really on the winning side of the conflict in Yemenand Saudi Arabia would need a more direct help from the US if it wants to achieve its goals by military means.
“Let me put it this way — I want to be very blunt with you. If it weren’t for the United States they’d be speaking Farsi in about a week in Saudi Arabia.,” Graham said commenting on prospects of an open military confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.