© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Air War In Yemen May Come At The Expense of Coalition Against ISIS


We'll ask now what is really driving the war in Yemen and also how that work could affect the rest of the region.


Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab nations have carried out air attacks in Yemen. They're targeting the Houthi rebels who control the capital. It is widely believed the rebels are backed by Iran.

MONTAGNE: The Arab nations' intervention raises many questions. One is whether they might lose interest in a different war - the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said he was impressed with the kind of dispatch the nine Arab nations showed in bombing the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. And Kaine wondered why they have not shown the same kind of enthusiasm for fighting ISIL, as he referred to the Islamic State.


SENATOR TIM KAINE: Is a possible explanation for the force of the action against Yemen is that all of these nations believe that Iran is their more pressing challenge and they actually don't think of ISIL as the same kind of pressing challenge that they view when they look at Iran?

WELNA: The question was directed to Gen. Lloyd Austin. He heads the U.S. Central Command and directs U.S. military operations in the Middle East. Austin came to the defense of the Arab states in that coalition.


GENERAL LLOYD AUSTIN: I can attest to the fact that they do see ISIL as a pressing challenge, sir. I do think that a big driver here is the geography associated with this.

WELNA: Namely that Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, but Gen. Austin also sounded a note of caution. The new multination offensive in Yemen, he said, could well have a downside in Syria.


AUSTIN: As they begin to focus on the Yemen problem, naturally because of resources we'll probably see less of an effort in Syria.

WELNA: Earlier this week, Brookings Institution Middle East expert Kenneth Pollack warned Congress that Saudi Arabia may be making a bad move.


KENNETH POLLACK: One of the greatest dangers is a Saudi Arabia that is itself facing a number of internal challenges will overstretch its resources by getting deeply involved in a Yemeni quagmire.

WELNA: Saudi Arabia used a hundred of its warplanes to attack the Houthis. Its allies supplied another 85. Now that they're fighting on a new battlefield, it's not clear how much they'll be doing in Syria. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.