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US cuts advisers to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

By Agence France-Presse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | China Daily | Updated: 2016-08-22 07:45

The US military has slashed the number of intelligence advisers directly supporting the Saudi-led coalition's air war in Yemen, the US Navy said on Saturday, following concerns over civilian casualties.

The reassignment of personnel, around June, came because "there was not the same sort of requests coming in for assistance", said Fifth Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey from its base in Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia has faced repeated criticism from rights groups over civilian casualties in its 17-month campaign against rebels in Yemen.

 US cuts advisers to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

People shout slogans as they rally to show support to a political council formed by the Houthi movement and the General People's Congress party to unilaterally rule Yemen by both groups, in the capital Sanaa, on Saturday. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

US officials have regularly urged their major Middle East ally to avoid harming noncombatants.

But McConnaughey said the US reassignment of personnel does not affect their ability to support the Saudis and is more efficient.

"That's the main reason behind it, and it's based on the amount of requests that we receive from the Saudis."

He said the United States now has "a limited number, less than five, that are working directly on the advisory cell that we have here" in Bahrain.

That number is down from about 45, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, at its peak.

Big demonstration

"If the need arises," the team directly assigned to coalition cooperation could be increased, he said.

The joint cell was established around the start of coalition operations in March last year, McConnaughey said.

The Arab coalition began air raids and later sent in ground forces to support the internationally recognized government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies overran much of Yemen.

The coalition has said it uses highly accurate laser and GPS-guided weapons - many supplied by the United States - and verifies targets many times to avoid civilian casualties.

Yet allegations of strikes on civilian facilities have continued.

Meanwhile, the rebel-controlled Saba news agency reported three civilians killed in a coalition raid on Saturday near the Huthi-held capital Sanaa.

It also said there was a huge demonstration in Sanaa in support of the rebels and their allies, forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

It called the demonstration "the most imposing in the history of Yemen" and said millions of people attended, a figure difficult to verify independently.

Protesters chanted slogans in favor of a new council appointed by the rebels and their allies to run the country.

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