US rejects UAE request for assistance with Hodeida offensive
UAE requests for military assistance in the offensive on the rebel-held Yemen port of Hodeida have been turned down by the US, media have reported, as aid agencies warn of disaster if the assault continues.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition supporting pro-Yemen government troops reportedly requested intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance, as UAE-led forces began its assault on Hodeida on Wednesday, Emirati officials told CNN.
A request for a US minesweeper to clear Houthi mines in the port’s waters was also turned down by the White House, the officials told the broadcaster.
No reason was given for the denial of assistance, but US Congress opposition to the offensive - due to predictions of mass civilian casualties from the assault - is thought to be one factor behind the White House's decision.
Despite the rejection of military assistance, a UAE official said that President Donald Trump might privately back the offensive.
"They did not encourage us, but did not discourage us," the official told CNN. "Not giving us military assistance is not the same as telling us not to do it."
Aid agencies and the UN have warned that the assault on the city home to around 600,000 could lead to mass civilian casualties and a wider humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
Hodeida is a key entry point for the import of aid to the poverty-stricken country, where around two-thirds of Yemen's 27 million population relies on humanitarian assistance to survive.
Around 8.4 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if aid imports are halted.
Several senior US officials have also backed the calls for a halt to the offensive.
Trump's administration have also called on the UAE and Saudi Arabia to coordinate the distribution and flow of aid during the assault on Hodeida.
A Pentagon official told CNN that the US had turned down the request for military assistance and said that Hodeida was "critical to the delivery of humanitarian assistance to relieve the suffering of the Yemeni people".
The UAE and Saudi-led coalition - supporting forces loyal to Yemen President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi - have claimed the port is being used to smuggle in weapons from Iran to the rebel Houthi group.
Saudi Arabia has said that the pro-Yemen government force is poised to take the Hodeida's airport, but pro-Hadi fighters have faced strong resistance and capturing the whole city could prove more difficult.
UAE troops have also been killed in the assault.
Yemen's war broke out in September 2015, when Houthi forces took over the capital Sanaa and forced the Hadi government to retreat south.
Saudi Arabia and an Arab coalition entered the war in March 2016, launching air strikes that escalated the war that has killed around 10,000 people in Yemen.