Deaths in U.S. Raids Enable Al-Qaeda’s Rising Influence in Yemen
CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin says Trump will continue U.S. policy that enables Saudi Arabia to commit atrocities in the region
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real New Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
At least 30 people were killed in a raid in Yemen last week, in what is the first military operation carried out under the Trump administration. “Almost everything went wrong,” one military official told NBC News. First, the helicopter the SEALs team members were in made a hard landing, causing injuries to two of the SEALs, then a firefight with enemy combatants broke out, leaving U.S. Petty Officer William Ryan Owens dead.
Medics on the scene in Yemen reported that at least 10 of the 30 killed were women and children. One of the children killed was eight-year-old US born Nora, she was the daughter of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric killed in a U.S. air strikes in Yemen in 2011.
Now joining us to discuss what happened is Medea Benjamin, Medea is the co-founder of the peace group, Code Pink and the author of “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection” Medea, thank you so much for joining us.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Good to be with you.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Medea, can you tell us about the attack? What we know thus far, what happened and why it happened?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s hard to know what the truth is because the Trump administration is so inept and has been putting out different reports. First, they said that this was something that had already been signed off on by the Obama administration and they were just waiting for a moonlit night to carry out the raid. It turns out that probably is not the case.
As you mentioned in the opening, all kinds of things went wrong. They were supposed to be doing this raid just to gather intelligence and yet they had been gathering intelligence in this place for months. And they have, of course, through the drones, a way to watch these houses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So they had to have known that there were women and children living there and yet they carried out this raid anyway. They first gloated that there were 14 militants that were killed, and yes, they were sorry that a Navy SEAL was shot. But what they didn’t talk about is all the innocent people who were killed in the raid, and that is still information that the administration is refusing to acknowledge, even though there are not only local medics but local reporters, and groups like Human Rights Watch, who have been talking about the innocent people killed, calling for a complete investigation and also calling for compensation to the families of the innocent people who were killed.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right, and Medea, what’s happening on the ground right now? Keeping in mind that these kinds of attacks and these kinds of operations have been going on in Yemen for a while now, even under the Obama administration. Many such incidences. Give us a sense of what is actually going on, on the ground, and why these operations are required?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well they’re not required — they’re happening and they’re making the situation worse. In fact, it was when, in 2009, the U.S. began using drone warfare in Yemen, there were perhaps 200 members al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group there is called — after four years of Obama drone attacks there were over 8,000 people who had joined that group, mostly because they were so angry at the U.S. drone attacks. Now President Obama [sic] is not only using drones but using these commando raids.
This should be put in the context of an even more difficult problem facing Yemen, which is civil war that the Saudis have become involved in to fight off the Houthis, who they think are too close to Iran, who is their enemy. And the U.S. has been helping the Saudis in this war, and in the meantime with the chaos caused by the war, al-Qaeda has taken over larger swathes of land and has become more powerful, which is one of the reasons, supposedly, that the Trump administration launched this raid so early in its administration.
But, as I said, these raid have only strengthened al-Qaeda in the past, and I think a raid such as this that has killed so many women and children, will certainly have blowback that will be recruiting more people to al-Qaeda and making more people hate the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, now going after al-Qaeda seems like it’s a good thing to do, you know, when the general public hears about these operations. Tell us, in terms of the political situation on the ground, if there is any relationship between al-Qaeda and the Houthis in Yemen.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, they hate each other, and the situation in Yemen is very complicated, but what we know is that outside intervention is making matters worse. A lot of the young men who joined al-Qaeda — and I know this from having gone there and interviewing them — were people who joined because they were trying to fight their own country’s dictatorship, not because they had anything against the United States. And, as long as the U.S. keeps intervening it’s like a vicious circle and at some point that vicious circle has to stop.
The Saudis have to stop their intervention in Yemen, the U.S. has to stop providing the Saudis with weapons and the U.S. has to stop interfering inside Yemen and instead be protecting us from attacks here in the United States. That is a way to de-escalate and to stop more and more Yemenis from joining groups like al-Qaeda.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, and Medea, finally, just tell us the cost of human suffering in this war that’s going on, the number of people displaced, the number of civilians that are getting killed. This isn’t light, it’s been going on for several years now.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s absolutely catastrophic, with thousands of civilians being killed, and even more importantly is to recognize that the bombing of things like the sewage facility, the water facility, the ports, have meant that there is not enough food coming in, that there is dirty water, and this has caused outbreaks of cholera, it’s caused dysentery and it means that there is a catastrophic, acute malnutrition among the young Yemenis, so that every 10 minutes there is a Yemeni baby that is dying. A totally disastrous situation that is unfortunately at the doorsteps, not only of the Saudis, but the of the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES: And looking ahead, what, in your opinion, could be done to resolve this situation?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump and his administration are going to continue this close reliance with the Saudis. Certainly, the Secretary of State Tillerson has a long-term relationship with the oil industry, the Saudi royal family is actually quite happy with Donald Trump, thinks that he will be supporting them in their ongoing struggles against Iran, including trying to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. So I think we can expect the worst and have to do a lot of work to organize to try to stop this disastrous support for the Saudi regime.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Medea, I thank you so much and keep up the good work at Code Pink.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.