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U.S. expands intelligence sharing with Saudi

The expanded assistance includes sensitive intelligence data that will allow the Saudis to better review the kingdom’s targets

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The United States is expanding its intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia to provide more information about potential targets in the kingdom’s air campaign against Houthi militias in Yemen, U.S. officials told Reuters news agency on Saturday.

The U.S. officials said the expanded assistance includes sensitive intelligence data that will allow the Saudis to better review the kingdom’s targets.

“We have opened up the aperture a bit wider with what we are sharing with our Saudi partners,” said one U.S. official.

“We are helping them get a better sense of the battlefield and the state of play with the Houthi forces. We are also helping identify ‘no strike’ areas they should avoid” to minimize any civilian casualties, the official said.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is concerned that the violence could spill over the border it shares with Yemen, and is also worried about the influence of Shiite Iran, which has denied Saudi allegations it has provided direct military support to the Houthis.

Washington has come under pressure to do more to assist the alliance led by Saudi Arabia, which fears the Houthi advance is expanding the influence of arch foe Iran to its border.

The U.S. role has now expanded in size and scope, involving more detailed “vetting” of targeting information prepared by the Saudis, with a particular interest in helping the Saudis to avoid civilian casualties, according to the U.S. officials.

The White House and Pentagon would not comment specifically when asked about expanded intelligence-sharing.

“The United States is providing our partners with necessary and timely intelligence to defend Saudi Arabia and respond to other efforts to support the legitimate government of Yemen,” said Alistair Baskey, a White House spokesman.

Until recent days, U.S. intelligence support was limited to examining Saudi targeting information to try to affirm its accuracy, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

On Monday, deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in general terms about the expanded cooperation during a visit to Riyadh, without disclosing specifics.

“Saudi Arabia is sending a strong message to the Houthis and their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force,” Blinken said.

“As part of that effort, we have expedited weapons deliveries, we have increased our intelligence sharing, and we have established a joint coordination planning cell in the Saudi operation center,” he added.

Earlier this week, a senior U.S. diplomat said that Washington was speeding up arms supplies and bolstering intelligence sharing with the Saudi-led alliance. The Pentagon has said it is beginning aerial refueling of Arab coalition jets - although outside Yemeni airspace.

[With Reuters]