US approves $1.8b arms sale to Saudis

Deal reflects Obama's vow to boost support for Sunni Gulf allies after deal with Shi'ite Iran

WASHINGTON • The US government has approved a request from Saudi Arabia to buy more than 19,000 bombs and smart bombs to help replenish supplies used in its battle against insurgents in Yemen and air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Congress will have to give the green light for the deal, but the US$1.29 billion (S$1.8 billion) sale announced by the State Department on Monday is likely to go through.

The deal reflects President Barack Obama's pledge to bolster US military support for Riyadh and other Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council after the White House brokered a nuclear deal with their Shi'ite rival Iran.

The Saudi-led operation against the Houthi militia in Yemen has proved controversial, with reports of civilian casualties. But Washington has stood by its ally, which is also a key player in the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Defence Security Cooperation Agency said the Saudi air force's arsenal is low, "due to the high operational tempo in multiple counter-terrorism operations".

The order includes 5,200 Paveway II laser-guided bombs in their GBU-10 and GBU-12 variants, along with 1,100 of the more modern, longer-range GBU-24 Paveway III.

The Saudis will also get thousands of "tail kits" to convert "dumb" munitions into satellite- guided smart bombs.

Last month, the US government approved the sale to Saudi Arabia of up to four Littoral Combat Ships for US$11.25 billion.

Meanwhile, Yemen's exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi yesterday returned to the southern port city of Aden to rally forces loyal to him in the country's civil war and oversee a campaign to retake the city of Taiz, an official said.

It was not clear how long Mr Hadi would stay in Aden, his second return since the Saudi-led coalition retook it in July, or whether his visit would herald the permanent return of his exiled administration from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

At least 5,600 Yemenis have been killed over seven months in a civil war that has pitted supporters of the exiled government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, against forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi militia allied to Iran.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'US approves $1.8b arms sale to Saudis'. Print Edition | Subscribe