The Pentagon confirmed to The Atlantic on Friday that there was still no official ACSA in place with the Saudis, only the provisional one that has remained in use since 2016. The Pentagon said this month that the agreement remained incomplete—and therefore led to no congressional notification—-because Riyadh had failed to fulfill “all of its internal procedures necessary for an Agreement to enter into force.”
Even as pressure built on Capitol Hill against U.S. support for the Yemen war, members of Congress struggled to get basic details about the refueling. As late as last year, several congressional offices had been told informally that refueling had ceased; this had not been the case.
In March, Democratic senators made three important requests, formalized in a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The group, led by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Reed, asked for details of the servicing agreements with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the statutorily required congressional notifications that are meant to accompany them. They also asked how Saudi Arabia was offered inflight refueling assistance in the year before it ultimately signed a provisional ACSA in May 2016. Finally, the group asked for “a full accounting of reimbursements by both the UAE and Saudi Arabia for inflight refueling provided since March 2015.”
In April, the military told the senators that it was still calculating the costs; it said the same last week, when The Atlantic reported that “errors in accounting” had led to undercharging. Forty-eight hours after the story was published, the Pentagon told The Atlantic that Centcom had finished recalculating the costs and was notifying the Saudis and Emiratis. That process was evidently complete by Thursday, when the Pentagon informed senators of the $331 million debt.
“The fact that DoD is just now realizing that it had failed to properly bill the Saudi-led coalition after all these years is quite troubling,” said Seth Binder, an advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy, who focuses on U.S. security assistance in the region.
“Congress must now continue to investigate how such an error could occur and force accountability upon the department as well as fix the loophole that could have allowed this to occur.”
It is far from clear whether the Pentagon has fixed the issues that led to its failures in tracking and accounting. ACSAs are not widely tracked, and their use to fuel the Yemen war made it more difficult for Congress to track American involvement. The Government Accountability Office is expected to release a report on their use this spring.
Meanwhile, the outcry against Saudi Arabia in Washington appears to only be building up steam. The Senate’s historic rebuke on Thursday of the Trump administration’s Saudi policy, while mostly symbolic, showed that Congress appears, at the very least, more willing to scrutinize military cooperation with America’s allies in the Gulf. That may surely mean more bad news for the Saudis.