The US is withdrawing operational support from Saudi Arabia’s forces in Yemen, which President Joe Biden hopes will help bring an end to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Mr Biden pledged during his presidential election campaign that his administration would resolve the long-running conflict between the Saudi-backed government and Iranian-aligned Houthi movement diplomatically.
He is due to announce the move later on Thursday, the White House has indicated, as well as name a new special envoy for Yemen.
The United Nations has described Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the people there in need of aid, and demanded more answers from the Saudis in light of a Sky News report last month.
Sky’s special correspondent Alex Crawford revealed how nine Yemeni women and children were killed when a Saudi fighter plane bombed their home.
The Saudi-led coalition has admitted that it made a mistake in the bombing, with the intended target being 800m away from the home that was struck.
It came more than five years after Saudi Arabia launched its offensive south into Yemen in 2015, in order to to counter the Yemeni Houthi faction.
The Houthis had taken land in Yemen and started launching missiles over the border into Saudi Arabia.
The US has assisted with the Saudi military operation since 2015, which the White House had said was to try and prevent civilian casualties.
The Donald Trump administration designated the Houthis in Yemen a terrorist organisation in January, in one of the former president’s final acts before leaving office – something that Mark Lowcock, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said could push the country further into disaster.
Mr Lowcock said Yemen faced “a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years”.
The UN’s humanitarian office puts the total estimated death toll from the civil war at 233,000, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as a lack of food, health services and infrastructure.
According to a UN report, there were 1,500 civilian casualties in the first six months of 2020 alone.
While the UK is not part of the Saudi-led coalition, the government has been accused by opposition MPs of “turning a blind eye” by continuing to sell weapons to Riyadh.
In a debate last September, Labour MP Sam Tarry said: “After suspending new arms sales to the Saudi regime [in 2019], the government resumed their deadly support in July , once again turning a blind eye to the war crimes that it is enabling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to commit.”
When the government announced it was restarting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it said: “There is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”