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US State Department approves $500mn helicopter maintenance deal with Saudi Arabia

This file picture shows the Saudi military's Black Hawk and AH-6 attack helicopters at the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) Khashm al-An Airfield in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo via Twitter)

The US State Department has approved a potential military agreement with Saudi Arabia, a week after President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of files about 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The agreement has now been sent to Congress for review. The Pentagon said on Thursday that the package would provide continued maintenance support services for a wide range of helicopters.

Under the deal, which covers up to $500 million in military support services, US will provide 350 contractor technicians and two government officials over two years to handle the maintenance of the Saudi military's Apache and Black Hawk attack helicopters, as well as the future fleet of CH-47D Chinook multi-role heavy-lift helicopters, AFP news agency reported.

The announcement said the vendor was not yet known.

It was the first major defense agreement for Saudi Arabia sent to Congress since Biden took office on January 20.

Before his election, Biden had promised to make Saudi leaders “pay” for the murder of prominent US-based dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated by agents closely tied to the court of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

In late January, Biden ordered a review of all arms contracts concluded by his predecessor Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia and other countries.

On Saturday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a 16-page declassified document related to its investigation of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Riyadh regime’s purported support for the hijackers.

The document, which is heavily redacted, provides a summary of an FBI interview in 2015 with a man who had regular contact with Saudi nationals in the US.

The man aided Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the first hijackers, once they arrived in the country.

It details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the US. It, however, stopped short of providing evidence that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the attacks.

Saudi warplanes conduct nearly two dozen air raids across Yemen

Meanwhile, Saudi warplanes carried out nearly two dozen airstrikes against residential neighborhoods across Yemen on Thursday evening.

Saudi military aircraft struck the Sirwah district in Yemen’s central province of Ma’rib on 18 occasions. The jets bombarded the Majzar district in the same Yemeni province as well.

There were, however, no immediate reports about possible casualties and the extent of damage.

Saudi fighter jets also launched two aerial attacks against the Kitaf wa al-Boqe'e district of the northwestern Yemeni province of Sa’ada, but no reports of casualties were quickly available.

Additionally, Saudi jets launched an airstrike against the Nati' district in Yemen’s central province of Bayda.

Saudi warplanes also carried out an air raid against the Harad district in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Over 20 Saudi mercenaries killed as fighting intensifies in central Yemen

In another development, some two dozen Saudi mercenaries have been killed in Yemen's central province of al-Bayda as Yemeni armed forces and fighters from their allied Popular Committees continue to gain on-ground military progress.

A Yemeni military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Yemeni forces have expanded their military campaign after seizing key areas from Saudi mercenaries.

During the past 24 hours, more than 20 Saudi-backed militants have been killed following ferocious battles in al-Bayda, the source said.

Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and regional allies, launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing popular Ansarullah resistance movement.

The war has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. It has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases.

Yemeni armed forces and allied Popular Committees, however, have grown steadily in strength against the Saudi-led invaders, and left Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the country.

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