Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Yemen is a small country at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula, with Saudi Arabia its neighbor to the north.

Saudi Arabia has immense oil wealth. By contrast, Yemen’s always been a poor country.

But since 2015 when civil war broke out there, conditions became dramatically worse.

The UN calls it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

REICHARD: Saudi Arabia has been deeply involved in Yemen’s civil war. And since war broke out, the United States has supported the Saudis.

That support includes logistical help, weapons, and intelligence.

But some lawmakers are saying the executive branch has gotten involved in another conflict without congressional approval. And now some Republicans and Democrats are calling for U.S. involvement to end.

EICHER: WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 when Houthis, Shia rebels from the country’s north, seized the nation’s capital and ousted the Saudi-backed ruler. In response, in March 2015, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition began a bombing campaign against the rebels who it believes Iran is supporting.

Now three years later, the civil war continues with dire humanitarian consequences.

In January, the United Nations estimated that 10,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting and more than 40,000 injured.

Today, the UN says 75 percent of the country’s 29 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Famine and disease threaten many of them. Only a little more than half of those in need received aid in 2017.

Layla lives in a remote part of Yemen. She told ITV news her two little girls are starving to death.

AUDIO: If my girls need food we will not find it. There is nothing. They will die from hunger. I cry, I cry so much. I never sleep. 

The United States has been indirectly involved in the conflict since the beginning. The U.S. has sold the Saudis weapons and according to Pentagon statistics, has refueled Saudi aircrafts more than 9,000 times.

That’s why last week, three U.S. senators sponsored a War Powers Resolution calling for the end of U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict.

The three senators, Utah Republican Mike Lee, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy want to check the President’s power to commit the U.S. to an armed conflict without consent from Congress.

AUDIO: Consistent with our Constitution, it is Congress that has the power to declare war. Article One, Section 8 makes that very clear.

Senator Mike Lee told me U.S. presidents have been usurping those powers since Congress approved the Authorization to Use Military Force days after 9/11. The Trump administration is now the third to use the authorization as grounds for sending troops into conflict zones around the globe.

Lee hoped the War Powers Resolution would force Congress to begin to take back its constitutional duty to declare war. But the resolution was tabled on a vote of 55 to 44.

AUDIO: I have yet to be convinced that the civil war in Yemen is ours to fight. But that’s, that’s an argument they should have to make to us. We should be the ones to choose to declare or not declare that war to either grant or withhold an authorization for the use of military force. That’s our decision to make. 

The Senate vote stood in contrast to a House vote last fall. Lawmakers there overwhelmingly passed a similar resolution that declared the U.S. military had not been authorized to assist Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen.

The Trump administration and GOP leaders insist the limited military support does not require congressional approval. They also say U.S. support for the Saudi Coalition is needed to counter the threat from Iran.

Critics of U.S. involvement in Yemen also point out that Saudi jets have unnecessarily targeted civilians, dropping bombs on homes, farms, markets, and schools. In October, a Saudi aircraft dropped a 500-pound, American-made bomb on a funeral hall—killing 140 people and injuring 600.

Matthew Tueller, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, told NPR last week the U.S. recognizes the problem of civilian deaths.

AUDIO: We have seen from the beginning of this conflict from our point of view the collateral damage and the civilian casualties caused by many of the Saudi air strikes were simply unacceptable. We’ve worked very closely with the Saudis to put in place methodologies for reviewing the selection of targets. We’ve provided training for Saudis in law of armed conflict, how to conduct operations in such a way to make absolutely certain that you’re taking all necessary measures to avoid any collateral damage. We see now that the Saudis are starting to slowly adopt some of the measures that we have suggested.

Last week, Department of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he’s hopeful the appointment of a new UN special envoy to Yemen can expedite a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

In the meantime, Senator Mike Lee says he’s hopeful the debate over the United State’s involvement in the conflict will continue. Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has said he’ll hold hearings on the matter in the coming weeks.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File) In this Jan. 3, 2017, file photo, newly recruited Shiite fighters, known as Houthis, mobilize to fight pro-government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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