The Pentagon Wants Its $331 Million In “Free Fuel” Back From The Saudis

A week after a bombshell report based on Pentagon records filed at Congressional request revealed the Pentagon has been fueling Saudi and UAE jets bombing Yemen for the past three years jets free of charge due to “errors in accounting,” the United States wants its money back. Records now indicate the US taxpayer is on the hook for a $331 million shortfall, split between $36.8 million in fuel and $294.3 million in U.S. flight hours, according to the latest DoD statements — a vastly higher sum than the mere “tens of millions” floated in initial reports last week.

The fact that the Saudis “never directly paid the U.S. a penny,” according to The Atlantic, was revealed shortly after the Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a historic move with huge significance yet largely symbolic in terms of what action it can effect.

Image via AFP/Getty

When pressed by journalists over whether either the Saudis or Emiratis had reimbursed the U.S. at all, the Pentagon stated that the “UAE has provided some repayment for refueling services.” And further according to correspondent Samuel Oakford

The Pentagon later confirmed that the Saudis have not made any payments —a stunning revelation given the amount of attention the campaign has received. 

Meanwhile UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Otaiba, pledged late last week that “the U.A.E. will cover its bills” while acknowledging the veracity of the reports.

A Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement: “Department of Defense is in the process of seeking reimbursement from KSA and UAE through their respective Acquisition and Cross-Servicing (ACSA) agreements.” The spokesperson added, “Our partners have been individually notified about our intent to seek reimbursement, and have been given estimates as to how much they owe.”

For the entire three-and-a-half years of the program which began with the Saudi coalition bombing campaign over Yemen in March 2015, the Pentagon never had an official servicing agreement in place with the Saudis and further never informed Congress.

The vital refueling role that the US military has played in the war goes back to March 2015 and was reported to be“enormously expensive”. The recipient country, in this case the Saudis, is required by law to pay the costs but the Pentagon now admits “they in fact had not been charged adequately” in an official DoD letter which was obtained by The Atlantic. US officials admitted last week that the DoD didn’t even know what it was owed — or rather we could say what they swindled the American taxpayer out of in yet another unauthorized war.

Information on the “accounting errors” began to emerge after Senators asked defense officials last March to account for Saudi coalition refueling costs. After eight months, just a day ahead of the Nov. 28 Senate vote to debate ending the war in Yemen, the Pentagon admitted it could answer this question. 

Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Atlantic last week that likely “tens of millions of dollars” worth of fuel was supplied to the Saudi coalition for free. However, this figure has now accurately been confirmed to be in the hundreds of millions, $331 million to be exact. 

But considering the following data, could even this newly published number be a low and inaccurate estimate?

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. — The Atlantic

“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,” Sen. Reed told The Atlantic. “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.”

So it’s clear that not only has the United States given the Saudis a “free pass” politically while tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been massacred over the years, but has literally been funding the Saudi military machine for free, despite Riyadh’s immense oil wealth. But while it’s easy enough to acknowledge that Washington bureaucracy is famously inept, on what planet does any of the following make sense?…

Top military officials also said that the results of American refueling weren’t being monitored: U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel told senators that the U.S. military did not track Saudi or Emirati jets after they were refueled, to see if they carried out strikes that harmed civilians.

So there it is… the tacit admission that proper fuel accounting would lead to US officials having to also uncomfortably account for and own up to the tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians dead since the Saudi-US coalition bombing campaign began years ago.

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