US Support “Vital” to Saudi Bombing of Yemen, Targeting Food Supplies as Millions Face Famine

In Yemen, the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition has bombed a Houthi military police camp, killing at least 30 people, most of whom were imprisoned inside the camp. One official said at least 35 bodies had been recovered from the blast site so far. The Saudi-led coalition has escalated its bombing campaign in recent days, following the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Days before his death, the longtime leader switched sides in the ongoing war and threw his support behind the Saudi-led coalition. He was then killed by the Houthis. The US-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign has devastating Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera epidemic. The Saudi-imposed blockade has prevented critical food, water, medicine and aid from reaching civilians. The United Nations has warned that over 8 million people are “a step away from famine.” For more, we’re joined by award-winning journalist Iona Craig, journalist who was based in Sana’a from 2010 to 2015 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. Her new piece for The Guardian is titled “Bombed into famine: how Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, a Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck a military police camp in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sana’a, killing at least 39 people and wounding 90 others, including several prisoners. The strike was part of an air campaign by the Western-backed coalition against the Houthis, that has intensified since the Houthis suppressed an uprising last week led by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh was killed in the attack. Before his death, the longtime leader had switched sides in the ongoing war and threw his support behind the Saudi-led coalition.

AMY GOODMAN: He was escaping Sana’a when he was killed. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen continues to worsen. The United Nations has warned over 8 million people are, quote, “a step away from famine.”

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Iona Craig, journalist who was based in Sana’a from 2010 to ’15, continually goes back, Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. Her new piece for The Guardian is headlined “Bombed into famine: how Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies.” Iona Craig was awarded the 2016 Orwell Prize for her reporting on Yemen.

Iona, welcome to Democracy Now! again. Can you talk about the latest news out of Yemen? Talk about this blockade. What is Saudi Arabia doing? And what is the role of the United States?

IONA CRAIG: Well, since the beginning of November, the Saudis have imposed an even stricter blockade on Yemen and its ports, most notably the Red Sea port of Hudaydah. And that was in retaliation, really, for a ballistic missile that was fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia towards Riyadh. And that has had a devastating impact on the ability of aid agencies to take food into Yemen, to take medical equipment and supplies into the country. And although that blockade has been eased somewhat towards the end of November, the aid agencies still don’t have full access and full use of Hudaydah port, which is the main access point for the Houthi-controlled territory and the most densely populated part of Yemen.

And it’s also had an impact on commercial imports, of course. You know, when I was in Yemen, there was still plenty of food in the markets. But because of this blockade, that food is having to come by land or from other ports much further away. And people simply can’t afford to buy that food now.

The US involvement has been both logistically, politically, and in support of the Saudi-led coalition. They’re vital, really, in the bombing campaign, in fuel supplies of the fighter jets that are used in daily air raids now in Yemen, and have, obviously, heavily backed the Saudi-led coalition all along, both in Riyadh in the command and control center, as well as with the supply lines of fuel for those fighter jets that are being used in Yemen every day.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Iona, but, earlier this month, Trump did issue a brief statement in which he said that he was asking administration officials, his administration officials, to urge Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade. Why did he say that? And what’s happened since?

IONA CRAIG: Well, that was almost a month after the blockade had been tightened by the Saudi-led coalition. And I think the timing of it says a lot about why that statement was made. This was after President Trump had announced the planned move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the Saudis’ response to that had been a negative one. And so, this appeared to be a slight war of words on the part of the Trump administration and Trump himself, by responding with a call on Saudi Arabia to ease the blockade. So, I think it was all about timing and other events within the region, rather than perhaps a genuine concern about the Yemeni civilians on the ground who are suffering so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the killing of the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president? So, explain this strange shift. And then he was leaving Sana’a, and he was stopped, his caravan, and he was killed?

IONA CRAIG: Well, it wasn’t actually that strange. Ali Abdullah Saleh had been enemies of the Houthis in the past. When he was president of Yemen, there had been six wars between the state and the Houthis between 2004 and 2010. And the alliance that the two parties — the Houthis and Saleh — had reached in 2014 was never going to last forever. Nobody thought it would. Even the Houthis themselves didn’t expect it to. So, this turn, this move by Ali Abdullah Saleh when he turned on the Houthis, was expected, but I still think it came earlier than even most people thought it would. And certainly, it appears, in hindsight now, to have been a huge miscalculation on Saleh’s part about the strength that he had militarily to counter the Houthis and also the support that he might get in such conditions from the Saudi-led coalition to rise up against the Houthis.

How he actually died, in the end, I think there are still a lot of questions about that. Certainly, the video and images that were released came from the Houthis, and they showed that Saleh was killed whilst trying to flee the capital. But I think there are a lot of questions, actually, about the validity of those videos, about whether they were staged or not, and perhaps that he was killed actually much earlier in the day when the Houthis bombed his house, and, in fact, those images were staged to make it look like Ali Abdullah Saleh was fleeing the capital and abandoning his own loyalists. So it’s not really clear the exact circumstances under which he died. But from — yeah, from what the Houthis were showing, it was from him fleeing the capital. But —

AMY GOODMAN: Iona, we only have a minute.

IONA CRAIG: — it may well have been he died some hours earlier, and they had, in fact, staged videos and images to show that.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute, and then we’re going to do Part 2 and make it a web exclusive. But how dire is the situation right now in Yemen?

IONA CRAIG: It’s very dire. Now the number of people on the brink of famine has reached more than 8 million. You’ve got children starving to death across the country, not just in the Houthi-controlled territory, but even in the coalition-controlled territory. And this is 27 million people now that are being strangulated by the coalition tactics of creating this blockade and blocking of humanitarian access. And this is creating disease. We’ve seen cholera and now diphtheria breaking out in Yemen. So it’s really the civilian population who are suffering the most from this. And many tens of thousand people — tens of thousands of people are dying as a result of the humanitarian crisis, many more than are dying in any violence in the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll do Part 2 of the conversation and post it online under web exclusives. Iona Craig, journalist who’s based — was based in Sana’a for years, Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. We’ll link to your piece in The Guardian titled “Bombed into famine: How Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies.”