WASHINGTON — US Air Force refueling assets stand ready to support Saudi Arabian operations in Yemen, but the Saudi government has yet to request their use, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
Col. Steve Warren said there is nothing holding up that refueling, but it just has not yet been needed.
"It's authorized, it's approved. The assets are in place. Thus far the Saudis, or any other participating nation, simply haven't requested it," Warren told reporters.
Warren stressed that any air refueling operations would not occur over Yemen itself. Asked why that was, the spokesman deferred, saying it was simply the mission parameters that have been decided upon, but the likely cause is to avoid the potential of US airmen becoming trapped on the ground in the midst of the conflict.
Warren did not go into details about what assets could be involved in the refueling, but said no new assets have been moved into the region to support operations.
Saudi forces have taken the lead in a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) operation against Houthi militants in Yemen. The air strikes are seen, in part, as Saudi Arabia reasserting itself as a regional power.
The US is not participating in any strikes directly, but is offering intelligence and logistical support through the GCC's Joint Fusion Center. The US has about a dozen representatives in the center.
In addition to refueling, the US is prepared to offer combat rescue operations. Sometime in the past two weeks, Warren said, the US helped rescue a downed pilot of a Saudi F-15 that experienced mechanical failures. That occurred over gulf waters, he added.