Saudi Arabia Says It Is Ending Airstrikes In Yemen

Apr 21, 2015
Originally published on April 22, 2015 7:20 am
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Saudi Arabia says it is ending airstrikes on neighboring Yemen today. For nearly four weeks the Saudi's have led a coalition of countries carrying out massive strikes against Houthi rebels. The rebels ousted Yemen's president and now control the capital. The U.S. has supported the strikes despite a heavy death toll. Saudi and U.S. officials say the Houthis are supplied by Iran. Iran denies it. We go now to NPR's Leila Fadel who is in Saudi Arabia and is near the border with Yemen. And Leila, what did the Saudis announce exactly?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, the Saudis say the bombing campaign will stop because they've destroyed all of the Houthis' heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles. Today's the 27th day of the airstrike campaign which basically paralyzed Yemen, an already really poor country. But that doesn't mean this is over. Saudi announced a new operation - a more humanitarian-focused operation that will allow for evacuations, for rebuilding. But they also said they'll use military action if necessary against the Houthis. And the decision was made after a request from Yemen's president who is exiled here in Saudi Arabia.

SIEGEL: And was this announcement of the end of the bombing campaign - was it unexpected?

FADEL: Yeah. Just two days ago, the same spokesman who announced the end of the bombing today implied in an interview that it would likely be a long haul before airstrikes ended because the Houthis continue to be a threat. And just this morning, the government called on the National Guard, which is seen here as the strongest arm of Saudi security forces, to join the operation. So it's really a surprise, and it's also unclear just how much this has hurt the Houthis who continue to advance inside Yemen despite the airstrikes and whose leader vowed just two days ago that they would never surrender.

SIEGEL: Well, you mentioned the appeal from the Yemeni president, but why do you think the Saudis made this announcement today?

FADEL: Well, it's really unclear. The military spokesman says it's because the president asked for it and because they've knocked out a lot of the Houthi weaponry. But the attacks were becoming really destructive and pretty controversial. Food is running out inside Yemen, electricity is scarce, and hundreds of civilians have been killed. Just yesterday, massive explosions ripped through the capital, ripped through homes and buried people under the rubble. And at least 30 people were killed.

Again, this announcement doesn't mean it's over. The military spokesman clearly stated that they would continue to use force. He didn't specify what kind of force if they deem the Houthis a threat. So people are skeptical. And they say the Houthis are part of Yemen, so any solution has to include them. But maybe it's a step towards some sort of negotiated end to the conflict.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Najran, Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.