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US support for the Saudi-led invasion in Yemen has escalated to include US airstrikes on Al-Qaeda, says CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin

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KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. Between Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. air strikes hit between 20 and 30 targets in Yemen, in what represents a significant increase in U.S. involvement in the civil war there. Previously, the U.S. carried out an average of three strikes per month. The intended targets are said to have been al-Qaeda, in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP. It’s not known exactly how many militants were killed, but residents on the ground told journalists that women and children were wounded during the strikes. The war in Yemen has been going on for almost exactly two years now, claiming at least 10,000 lives, and causing millions to face a humanitarian crisis. And joining us to talk about the latest escalation in Yemen, we’re joined with Medea Benjamin. Medea is the Co-founder of the peace group, Code Pink. She’s also the author of the book, titled, “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind The U.S.-Saudi Connection”. Medea, thank you so much for joining us here, on The Real News Network. MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you for having me on. KIM BROWN: So Medea, if you could, could you give us a brief summary of what is known to have happened on Wednesday and Thursday, when the U.S. launched this barrage of attacks on Yemen? MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, this follows the January 29th raid that Donald Trump authorized right after becoming president, in which several dozen people were killed. The American people hear about the Navy Seal who was killed, but we don’t hear about all the innocent Yemenis, including ten children who were killed. Supposedly that raid was, “worth it” because there was all this information that was gathered in the raid. And now, I think to justify that raid, the U.S. has gone in now and carried out about 30 air strikes, trying to pummel al-Qaeda. In the meantime, we have no idea how many more innocent civilians have been killed, how much blowback and revenge that will cause among the Yemeni people. But it is, I think, quite sad that the Trump administration has decided to go back into Yemen directly. Not just by supporting the Saudis, but direct involvement of the U.S., through not only drones, but helicopters and commando raids. KIIM BROWN: So, let’s go back in time if we could, to see how the pattern of the U.S. involvement in Yemen has gone. Because the Obama administration, in early 2015, pulled back a majority of the U.S. forces that were there, it wasn’t a big contingent, but it was some. And it seemed as if they were, sort of deferring any military action in Yemen towards Saudi Arabia, which was, the U.S. was part of the coalition that was led by the Saudis that continues this strike on so-called rebels, in Yemen. So, what has been the United States involvement in this country? MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we have to distinguish between two separate fights that are going on, and obviously related, but separate. One is against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, which under Obama — he started drone strikes against them in 2009. When he started those strikes, it was estimated there were only about 200 members of AQAP. But with each strike, more of the Yemeni people got angry at the U.S., joined al-Qaeda, until it became a much larger — estimated to have over a thousand people. That is one struggle. In the meantime, two years ago, a group called the Houthis, rose up, overthrew the government in power — took over the capital. And the Saudis were worried that the Houthis would be aligned with Iran, and they got involved and started a bombing campaign, which they probably thought would be very quick. And, in the meantime, has gone on for the last two years, and absolutely devastated the country. The U.S. has been supplying the weapons, the logistics, giving all sorts of support to the Saudis, in a bombing campaign that has left over 10,000 Yemenis killed. But even more than that, it caused a catastrophe that according to the UN has left seven million Yemenis not knowing where their next meal will be coming from. So, while this catastrophic situation has been unfolding, thanks to U.S. support for the Saudi bombing, al-Qaeda has gone into the …(audio drop)… and grown. And now Trump comes in and says, “Okay, now we’re going to deal with al-Qaeda.” This is just adding fuel to the fire, and will only make things worse for the poor people of Yemen. KIM BROWN: So, in an earlier interview with you, Medea, we already addressed the possibility of U.S. escalation there. So, do these attacks confirm an escalation of U.S. involvement, and do you expect U.S. involvement continue to escalate in Yemen? MEDEA BENJAMIN: So, let’s remember, U.S. involvement is happening every day with U.S. support for the Saudi bombing campaign. And then separately, the U.S. attacks on al-Qaeda, that is something new in this level of intensity that we have not seen before. And the fact that the Trump administration seems, in its early stages, intent on getting involved deeply, militarily against AQAP, does seem that there is a significant escalation on the part of the U.S. military in Yemen. KIM BROWN: You know, Donald Trump is not one to pick a position and stick to it, so while he was campaigning as candidate Trump, he promised to reduce the U.S. involvement in other countries. But as you know, he just recently announced an increase in the military budget of over $50 billion. So, how do you think Trump’s involvement in Yemen until now, compares to that of what he promised while campaigning? He also went on to say that our military no longer wins wars. In your opinion, is this situation in Yemen something that is, “winnable”, for the United States? MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is not winnable militarily, but there certainly is a good possibility for stopping the civil war that’s going on, through political solutions. And I think that’s exactly where the Trump administration should be putting its efforts, by calling on Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Houthis, the former government, to come together and start the peace talks, and end the fighting. This is a tremendous humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The country is already suffering with tremendous shortages of food, and is on the brink of famine. The only way to stop the famine is to stop the fighting. And that’s something that would be a positive contribution that Donald Trump, who said he was against the U.S. military involvement overseas, he should go back to that position. KIM BROWN: Why does it seem as if the United States, and who supports Saudi Arabia’s campaign, and conversely I would imagine Saudi Arabia supports the United States, campaign of so-called eradicating terrorism in Yemen. It seems as if they want to destroy this country, Medea, what is behind that, in your opinion, besides what they say on the surface? MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is also the U.S. support for the Saudi invasion of Yemen, is also payback for the Saudis agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal. Unfortunately, the Yemeni people are the victims in all of this, but it really is about the ongoing animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the U.S. taking the position of Saudi Arabia. KIM BROWN: And in the end, as you mentioned, the United Nations has declared this a humanitarian crisis. We know that Doctors Without Borders, Medecins sans frontieres, has pulled out of certain parts of the country, because hospitals were bombed, so-called soft targets were repeatedly bombed. So, who is there on the ground helping the Yemeni people? MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think it’s so sad when I see all the attention that is paid to the Navy Seal who was killed, which is tragic, but what about all the Yemenis who are being killed? What about all the children? What about the child who is dying every ten minutes in Yemen, because of this ongoing war? I think the world has turned its back against Yemen. The United States is responsible for so much of the devastation, and yet is barely fulfilling the UN call for the tremendous humanitarian needs. KIM BROWN: We’re going to leave it there. We’ve been speaking with Medea Benjamin. She is Co-founder of the peace group, Code Pink, also author of the book titled, “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection”. Medea, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you. MEDEA BENHAMIN: Thanks for having me on. KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network. ————————- END

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Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She has been organizing against U.S. military interventions, promoting the rights of Palestinians and calling for no war on Iran. Her latest work includes an effort to stop CIA drone attacks, and she is the author of a new book, "Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection"