The US Military has reportedly started an aerial-refuelling mission for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition warplanes currently engaged in air assault on Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Pentagon spokesman Army colonel Steve Warren was quoted by DefenseNews as saying that a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker flew the first mission on 8 April, refuelling a Saudi-owned F-15 Eagle and an F-16 Fighting Falcon operated by the UAE Air Force.
While the US Central Command (Centcom) aims to fly one daily tanker mission to support the allied aircraft, the tanker will not enter into the Yemeni airspace, Warren added.
The US closed its embassy and pulled out its military personnel from Yemen last month, citing deteriorating security situation in the country. It has so far played a limited role in the Saudi-led initiative.
Approximately a dozen US soldiers are believed to have been assigned to a joint co-ordination planning centre that was established in a Saudi Arabian operation centre to work alongside Saudis and other allied Gulf Cooperation Council militaries and co-ordinate the limited US support.
According to Warren, the military personnel are providing only limited intelligence support but are not sharing specific targeting information.
In addition, the Pentagon has accelerated shipment of weapons and munitions primarily bombs and guidance kits in an effort to replenish allied stockpiles, as the coalition intensifies its campaign.
On 26 March, Saudi Arabia began launching airstrikes in Yemen with an aim to weaken Houthis, who currently control large swathes of the country including its capital Sana’a, and also dissolved the parliament earlier this year.
The offensive is code-named Operation Decisive Storm, and is also supported by warplanes from Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, and the UAE.
Meanwhile, Iran has deployed two navy vessels to the Gulf of Aden, off the southern coast of Yemen, amid escalating fighting between the Houthis and rebels loyal to country’s embattled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in the city of Aden.
The deployment has sparked tensions among the US and its Gulf allies who accuse Iran of backing the Houthis.
However, Iran insists that its 34th Fleet, comprising Alborz destroyer and Bushehr helicopter-carrier warship, will conduct anti-piracy patrols to protect naval routes for vessels in the region, as reported by Fars News Agency.