Reed-led inquiry uncovers US taxpayers footed $331M bill to fuel Saudi jets


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Following an inquiry led by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been sent a bill for about $331 million after the U.S. military failed to charge them for years of refueling missions.

In March, Reed – who is the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee – sent Defense Secretary Jim Mattis a letter asking for a “full accounting” of how the Saudi-led coalition was paying for Pentagon refueling of aircraft conducting missions in the conflict in Yemen.

“We discovered by probing intently they had not been accounting for the fuel and billing the Saudis,” Reed said of the Defense Department during Friday’s taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “We are expecting a check shortly, we hope.”

Reed said based on the information he was provided, he does not think the Pentagon was intentionally looking the other way on the payments, describing it rather as “sloppy” bookkeeping. The revelation raises other questions about similar contracts the U.S. has with its allies.

“We found this with Saudi Arabia and we’re not stopping there,” Reed said. “We have put the Department of Defense on notice that we are going to look at all these contracts, that we are going to demand they go ahead and recover all of the funds that is owing to the United States.”

“It’s only fair,” he added. “They have to pay for what they are given.”

The mid-air refueling missions began in March 2015, according to Reed’s office. Reed said he called on Mattis to end the operations and they ended last month.

The conflict in Yemen has come under greater scrutiny due to the massive scope of the humanitarian crisis caused by the fighting.

Last month, Reed and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse voted for a War Powers Resolution co-sponsored by Vermont independent Bernie Sanders that would limit U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict. 
That was an about-face from earlier in the year, when they were among a small number of Democrats who voted against the Sanders resultion.

Reed said it was murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi crown price – that motivated his change of heart.

“It revealed the brutal regime seemed to be indifferent [to] international norms,” Reed said. “The approach to dealing with other countries and even their own citizens, we had to send a much stronger signal.”

Tim White ( is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

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