The Department of Defense approved Thursday five major weapon sales, including helicopters for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and missiles for Morocco, despite Congressional backlash regarding the countries' involvement in Yemen's civil war.
In all, the department's Defense Security Cooperation Agency cleared $7.9 billion of deals to Middle Eastern allies. The sales include over $3.5 billion for CH-47F Chinook Cargo Helicopters to Saudi Arabia, an additional $3.5 billion for Apache AH-64E Helicopters to the UAE and about $108 million in TOW 2A missiles to Morocco. Also included were a $700 million deal for logistics support services and equipment and a $81 million deal for spare C-17 military transport plane engines and equipment headed to Qatar.
U.S. military support for Gulf nations has come under criticism recently, especially concerning Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen's civil war and support for groups espousing its ultraconservative interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., attempted to block a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other armaments to the oil-rich kingdom on humanitarian grounds, but were struck down in September when the bill was ultimately approved by Congress.
Saudi Arabia backs exiled Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his loyalist supporters against the Houthis, an Iran-supported movement that represents Yemen's Zaidi Shiite minority. Saudi Arabia regularly conducts airstrikes in Yemen, including in populated areas such as the capital city of Sana'a, which remains under Houthi control since militants overthrew Hadi in late 2014. In October, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrike hit a crowded funeral, killing at least 140 people and injuring at least 500 more in the conflict's deadliest incident.
The UAE, Morocco and Qatar have also been involved in the Yemen war, providing warplanes and soldiers to Saudi Arabia's coalition. Abu Dhabi played a crucial role, contributing 30 warplanes and thousands of ground troops before Junior Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash announced in June that the war was "practically over" for the UAE.