U.S. Ramps Up Its Fight Against Al-Qaida In Yemen : Parallels The U.S. military has been waging periodic drone strikes against al-Qaida in Yemen for years. A series of airstrikes and a ground raid have intensified the campaign over the past month.
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U.S. Ramps Up Its Fight Against Al-Qaida In Yemen

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U.S. Ramps Up Its Fight Against Al-Qaida In Yemen

U.S. Ramps Up Its Fight Against Al-Qaida In Yemen

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Yemen, the Trump administration has stepped up military action. The U.S. has been bombing al-Qaida targets there this week. The U.S. effort against al-Qaida is just one of three separate conflicts in Yemen, and the country is also suffering a terrible humanitarian crisis. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to talk more about it. Welcome to the studio, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: What more can you tell us about the scope of these U.S. strikes in Yemen?

MYRE: The U.S. has carried out about 30 bombing strikes in the past two nights. And this is very unusual in Yemen. What we've traditionally seen is the occasional drone strike. And this stepped up activity that we're seeing comes on the heels of a very rare ground raid about a month ago. That ground raid did not go smoothly at all. A U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed. Several colleagues were injured, and their aircraft had to be destroyed. They did gather some intel, but we're hearing today from Defense officials that that was not what led to the most recent airstrikes that we've seen.

CORNISH: Do we know what the U.S. goal is here?

MYRE: I think specifically what they fear from al-Qaida in Yemen is the ability to make very sophisticated bombs - bombs that don't have metal in them and could be used to carry out an attack on an airliner. So it's a specific skill that they associate with al-Qaida in Yemen.

CORNISH: Now, it's not just the U.S. and al-Qaida here. There are many other players in the conflict in Yemen. Can you give us a sense of what's going on on the ground?

MYRE: Sure. Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging this major battle for supremacy throughout the Middle East. And Yemen is one of their main battlegrounds. For the Saudis, Yemen is a country on their southern border. They don't want this chaos. And for the last two years, they've been conducting air strikes with a lot of U.S. assistance. It has not gone well. It hasn't changed the trajectory of the war in any significant way. And the Saudis are being blamed for a lot of civilian casualties, so not a real success from their point of view. On the Iranian side, they're aligned with the Houthi rebels - they're fellow Shiite Muslims. And it's hard to get an exact fix on how much Iran is or isn't doing in Yemen. But it's clearly a way for them to be poking at Saudi Arabia, so it's part of this bigger proxy battle.

CORNISH: Right. Proxy because Yemen has its own civil war going on.

MYRE: That's right. And it's been an absolute disaster for the country. This is a very poor country. And now you have this multi-sided civil war. We won't get into all the players, but I'll just mention two. One I've already noted, the Houthi rebels - they took over the capital two years ago, and they still control it in other parts of the country. But they're not a functioning government in any real sense of the word. And they're fighting against primarily the president's troops. And there's the president Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, but he's been out of the country for two years. He's got a loyal army fighters still waging war on his behalf. But he's been mostly in Saudi Arabia. So you have this inconclusive war that drags on with many different actors.

CORNISH: Is it something that can be compared to what is happening in Syria?

MYRE: It is a fair analogy. In both these countries, the Arab uprisings of 2011 is where all this trouble began. You've had multi-sided civil wars, a downward spiral into complete chaos in both countries. The U.S. is carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, against al-Qaida in Yemen and, again, just a humanitarian catastrophe in both places.

CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks so much.

MYRE: Thank you, Audie.

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