US Mideast commander visits Saudi-Yemeni border in media absence

US Mideast commander visits Saudi-Yemeni border in media absence
Thu Aug 24, 2017 14:36:11

The top US commander for the Middle East has made his first visit to a Saudi military base near the Yemeni border in a tour closed to media representatives.

Gen. Joseph Votel’s Wednesday visit came on the same day that dozens of civilians were killed in the Saudi-led airstrike on a hotel in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a.

According to US Central Command spokesman Col. John Thomas, Votel did not crossed into Yemeni territory during the visit, which lasted much of the day, noting that the small group which accompanied him got separated at one point due to logistical problems, including a vehicle breakdown.

Votel’s 600-mile day trip from Riyadh to Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Jizan region was aimed at developing “a better understanding of the Saudi challenges with security [at] the border,” Thomas said.

Journalists traveling with Votel were not allowed to accompany him during the border visit. Officials said there was a lack of seats on the aircraft ferrying Votel to the region.

Votel met with Saudi Arabia’s commanders and troops, including Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Turki, and visited an operations center.

Yemen has been under regular US drone strikes, with Washington claiming to be targeting al-Qaeda elements, while local sources say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks.

Back in March, US President Donald Trump gave the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) new powers to launch drone attacks against suspected terrorist targets. The authority was limited to the Pentagon under the former US administration.

The US also conducted deadly ground and aerial raids on Yemen in January and May, leaving dozens of Yemeni civilians dead in total.

Yemen has been under heavy airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and some of its allies, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan, since March 2015.

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