© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World

Aid Workers In Yemen Express Alarm At U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When President Trump was in Saudi Arabia this weekend, he praised a new arms deal. He danced with the royal family. But there was little talk about the Saudi military campaign in neighboring Yemen. There, the Saudis have taken on Iranian-backed rebels. The country is close to famine. It faces a severe cholera outbreak. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the devastation in Yemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Two years into a devastating war, Bushra Alkdukhainah is sounding desperate.

BUSHRA ALKDUKHAINAH: We believe that Yemen is being forgotten. Nobody's talking about what's going on, or nobody even know about or where Yemen is. So we feel very much neglected.

KELEMEN: Alkdukhainah manages an office in northern Yemen for the international aid group CARE. In an interview here in Washington, she tries hard to remain neutral, saying all sides in this war are responsible for the desperate situation of the population, and everyone has suffered, including her own family, who fled their town two years ago as it came under Saudi-led airstrikes.

ALKDUKHAINAH: We had to be displaced within two hours to leave everything behind and to just run for our lives. Our house and all our properties - they were destroyed.

KELEMEN: She lost two cousins and says her 11-year-old son is having the hardest time coping with this.

ALKDUKHAINAH: It's very difficult, very difficult because the one who died is about his age, and he was his best friend.

KELEMEN: And though the CARE official wouldn't weigh in on the Trump administration's latest arms sales to the Saudis, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Murphy, doesn't mince his words.

CHRIS MURPHY: Yemen is a disaster. It's a humanitarian disaster, and it's a national security disaster for the United States. It's really hard for me to understand why Trump has decided to double down on U.S. support for a civil war inside Yemen that has created enormous space for groups like al-Qaida and ISIS to grow and has resulted in a famine.

KELEMEN: The Connecticut senator says the U.S. should be imposing conditions on its military aid to the Saudis to pressure Riyadh to at least open up a key port for humanitarian aid. But that doesn't appear to be happening, and Murphy worries that the U.S. is complicit in war crimes as it helps the Saudis fight a rebel movement backed by Iran.

MURPHY: There's a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen that's caused by the Saudi bombing campaign. The Saudis simply could not operate this bombing campaign without us. Their planes can't fly without U.S. refueling capacity. They are dropping munitions that we've sold them. We are standing side by side with them often when they are reviewing intelligence about targets.

KELEMEN: One Yemeni activist who was given an award at the State Department earlier this year, Fadia Thabet, says the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most of the civilian deaths. But she blames the coalition and their opponents, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, for targeting civilians.

FADIA THABET: Surrounding some cities with 7,000 land mines, snipers shooting children in the street and women in the street, airstrikes that happen in the markets and the hospitals, preventing and attacking medical supplies, food supplies to not get into some of the cities.

KELEMEN: And the list goes on. Thabet says what Yemen needs now is a new peace process, not more weapons for the Saudis. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER AND BENH ZEITLIN'S "THE SMALLEST PIECE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.