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US asks Saudi, UAE to pay $331mn more for Yemen War aerial refueling

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo shows aircraft from Saudi Arabia's Royal Air Force refueling midair.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should pay the US military $331 million more for the aerial refueling they received during the Yemen war, the Pentagon has said, citing an "accounting error."

The Pentagon is still looking forward to recuperating outstanding refueling costs that were amassed between March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition attacked Yemen, and November of this year, when the service was pulled amid international criticism.

Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Friday that the US Central Command (CENTCOM) was specifically looking to reimburse about $36.8 million for fuel costs and $294.3 million for flight hours, which were not included in the initial bills and were therefore paid for with taxpayer money.

"US Central Command reviewed its records and found errors in accounting where we failed to charge the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) adequately for fuel and refueling services. USCENTCOM calculated the correct charges, and Department of Defense is in the process of seeking reimbursement," she said in a statement to CNN.

Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, first uncovered the accounting mistake in a probe. He said Thursday that the Pentagon was taking the necessary measures to recover the funds.

"This is good news for US taxpayers and underscores the need for strong oversight of the Department of Defense. The American people should not be forced to bear these costs and I am encouraged DOD is taking steps to get full reimbursement," Reed said in a statement.

He also called on US President Donald Trump to help end the war by taking advantage from the progress that Yemen’s warring sides have achieved during the ongoing UN-led talks in Sweden.

"It is time for this war to stop," he added.

The military aggression has created a human crisis in the impoverished country, killing some 15,000 Yemenis and putting millions more on the verge of famine.

While the Trump administration has shown little interest in ending the war, the Senate made it clear on Thursday that it wanted Washington out of the conflict.

The historic 56-41 bipartisan vote, for the first time, invoked Congress' war powers to challenge US military involvement abroad despite the Trump administration's unwavering support for the Saudi regime in its aggression against Yemen.

While the US military has stopped aerial refueling of Saudi-led aircraft, it continues to provide the coalition with targeting intelligence. There are also US military personnel in Saudi Arabia who advise Saudi commanders.

Trump says punishing Saudi Arabia for its crimes only endangers billions of dollars in arms sales and pushes the traditional Middle East ally towards Russia.

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