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U.S. Weapons Falling into Wrong Hands, Devastation Left in Yemen; Lawmakers Renew Efforts to End American Military Support for Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen; Interview with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:32:42] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: U.S. lawmakers are renewing their efforts to pass a war powers resolution through Congress in an attempt to end American military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

As the U.S. government grapples with its entanglement in Yemen's civil war, CNN's Nima Elbagir has been following the trail of U.S. weaponry and the devastation left in their wake.

After CNN presented its findings, a U.S. Defense official told CNN exclusively that an investigation into violations of U.S. arms agreements by coalition partners is ongoing.

This is Nima's exclusive report, "Made in America, Lost in Yemen."


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shells of millions of dollars-worth of abandoned American armored vehicles litter the roads. Welcome to Yemen where weapons made in American is sold, stolen and abandoned and making its way into the wrong hands.



ELBAGIR: We're here to trail of those weapons and the chaos they have left behind. Our journey starts at the front lines where a cease-fire was recently assigned.

Climbing up a defensive berm for a better look, the Houthi position, we're told, is only around 200 to 300 meters away.


ELBAGIR: That movement there on the horizon. Did you hear that? Get down.


ELBAGIR: There. Another shot that's coming from over there.

They want to take us to the actual position. They want to show us the cease-fire violations.




ELBAGIR (on camera): So they're now firing on us. You can hear it. I can hear a musa that's incoming.


ELBAGIR: It's getting heavier and we're told we have to leave.

Even as we are driving away, even now you can hear that. It's getting much, much heavier.


(voice-over): The influx of weaponry is prolonging the conflict.

On our way back from the front line, we spot what we've come in search of.

(on camera): It's absolutely incredible driving past, and it's like a graveyard of American military hardware. And this is not under the control of coalition forces. This is in the command of militias.

[13:35:09] (voice-over): Which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreement with the U.S.

On the outside of these mine-resistant armored vehicles, MRAPs, there are stickers proudly proclaiming them as property of a militia allied to the coalition. We zero in on the serial numbers, tracing them back to U.S. manufacturer, Navistar, the largest provider of armed vehicles for the U.S. Army.


ELBAGIR: We're told to stop filming.


ELBAGIR: But we're able to find another vehicle. This one even has the export sticker, from Beaumont, Texas, to Abu Dhabi in the United Emirates.


ELBAGIR: As we arrive back in town, we pass yet another militia-held MRAP. Everywhere we look, it seems, it's made in the USA.

(SHOUTING) ELBAGIR: Yemen is split between warring factions, U.S.-backed and Saudi-led in the country's south, Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the north.

We can't cross front lines to go north, but the MRAPs have. Captured by Iran's allies, the Houthis.


ELBAGIR: To the backdrop of chants to "death of America, this U.S. MRAP was broadcast on a Houthi-backed channel with Mohammad Ali Houthi (ph), the deputy leader, sitting behind the wheel.

CNN was able to obtain the serial number from one of the Houthi-held MRAPs and verified that it was part of the $2.5 billion 2014 U.S. sale to the UAE, a coalition partner.

So why does it matter? Because these very MRAPs and others like them have already, we're told, fallen into the hands of Iranian intelligence.

In an audio interview with a member of a secret Houthi unit of the Preventative Security Force, CNN was told some U.S. military technology has already been transferred to Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Iranian intelligence are assessing U.S. technology very closely. There isn't a single American weapon that they don't try to find out its details, what it's made of, how it works.

ELBAGIR: Advanced improvised explosive devices with Iranian components are now mass-produced by Houthi forces on a scale only previously achieved by ISIS. And the U.S.'s first line of defense against IEDs, the MRAP, has been compromised.

The Houthi leadership denied to CNN the existence of the Preventative Security Force. CNN has also reached out to Iran for comment but received no response.

Regardless, at the very least, these high-profile captures of American hardware make them safer and harder to fight.



ELBAGIR: Our next stop is the mountain city of Baz (ph), where we're told an Iran-linked militia is in possession of American weaponry.

In these images obtained by CNN, you see the Abalabas militia, founded by and funded by Abalabas (ph), on the U.S. terror list, proudly patrolling the streets of Baz (ph) in U.S. MRAPs.

If that wasn't unsettling enough, Baz (ph), as we learned, is also awash with weaponry.


ELBAGIR: Arms markets are illegal in Yemen, but that hasn't stopped them from operating.


ELBAGIR: Using undercover cameras, we are able to film arms sellers hidden amid women's clothing shops.

He doesn't today, but we're told we can put in a special order for an American assault rifle. Sellers like these are driving a black market for high-tech American weapons. And that's just the tip of iceberg.


ELBAGIR: CNN was told by coalition forces that a deadlier U.S. weapon system, the TOW missile, was air dropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to Yemeni forces, an air drop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi- backed media channels.

Where were they used and by whom? We try to find out.

(on camera): Yes, can you hear me?





We've been told we can't go ahead with the interviews we had preplanned. This local government is under the head of the coalition and they are completely blocking our contacts or any of our ability to do any work.

(voice-over): The intimidation continued throughout that day and into the night. Ultimately, we're chased out of town.

[13:40:00] But we still want to find out what happened to the TOWs. We ask the U.S. Department of Defense whether they knew what happened to the U.S. anti-tank missiles. They said that despite Saudi TV coverage, they weren't even aware of the claim that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia used TOW anti-tank missiles in Yemen in October 2015. After CNN presented its findings to the DOD, it says it has now launched an investigation.

The Saudi-led coalition has not responded to calls for comment but a senior UAE official denied to CNN that they were in violation of the arms sales agreement, saying, "The Giants Brigade are part of Yemeni forces that fight the Houthis on the ground and are under our direct supervision."

The U.S. DOD statement to CNN added, "They did not authorize any transfer of MRAPs or any military hardware from Saudi Arabia or the UAE to third parties."

So far, we've focused on the weapons fueling the war here.


ELBAGIR: But the seemingly endless conflict they sustain has also sparked a manmade catastrophe.

Just a short distance from the front lines, the human toll comes into full view.


ELBAGIR (on camera): This is Bashai, and she is so malnourished, she can't walk. Her mother has to carry her everywhere.

There are 200 cases of malnutrition, like Bashai, just in this one village.

(voice-over): The local clinic had to shut down, so when word that the doctor is here gets around, parents come out into the street to meet her.

Lola is 14 months old but looks far smaller.


ELBAGIR: After the doctor finishes her checkup, her father takes us deeper into the village to meet other families.

(on camera): This is Rehab. She's two years old and she is so severely malnourished that her chest has begun to cave in. But incredibly, this is Rehab after she started getting better. The doctors said they have been able to get her to keep some of the nutrition in, and they're actually hopeful now.

(voice-over): That hope, though, depends on peace. And what we've seen here doesn't give much hope of a lasting one.

How easy it is to get your hands on high-tech U.S. weapons. How a swamp of uneasy alliances has led to sensitive U.S. weaponry ending up in both Iranian and al Qaeda-linked hands. How America's allies are making Americans less safe.

Wherever or with whomever the weapons end up, the war goes on. And ultimately, it's the people here who, as ever, bear the brunt.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Al-Bayda (ph) Province.


KEILAR: U.S. weapon manufacturer, Navistar, did not respond to CNN's request for comment. These U.S. arms sales are legally process and sanctioned by the U.S. government.

And CNN's exclusive report has now gotten the attention of American lawmakers. At least one Senator now calling for the U.S. to end its involvement in the Yemen civil war.

We have Senator Chris Murphy, along with Nima Elbagir, who had that exclusive report, joining us live, next.


[13:48:10] KEILAR: A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. This push from Senator Chris Murphy is coming on the heels of an exclusive CNN report, "U.S. Weapons Sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Following into the Hands of Militias Linked to Iran and al Qaeda."

The head of the U.S. Central Command was asked about the situation at a hearing today.


GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY CENTRAL COMMAND: We have not authorized Saudi Arabia or the Emirates to retransfer any of this equipment to other parties on the ground in Yemen.

I think we have to look more closely at the allegations in this particular situation to find out what happened. As we've seen in Iraq in the past, where we saw our partners overrun, we have seen American equipment provided to them, lost in the course of a fight, end up in the hands of our adversaries out there. And so I think we have to examine that better.


KEILAR: Senator Chris Murphy is with us from Capitol Hill. CNN's Nima Elbagir is in London with more on her exclusive reporting.

Senator, when you heard this CNN that Nima had on CNN, what did you think?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D), CONNECTICUT: It's infuriating but not surprising. There's a long history of the United States sending very complicated, very lethal weapons into chaotic war zones and those weapons ending up in the hands of our enemies. Just recently, a few years ago, when we were trying to train a whole bunch of so-called moderate rebels inside Syria, many of the weapons we gave them ended up in the hands of those they were supposed to be fight, groups connected to ISIS. This is predictable and it's why many of us have been advocating for years for the United States to get out of the civil war inside Yemen. Our support for the Saudis has been allowing them to intentionally kill civilians. And now we find out fairly definitively that the weapons we have been giving the Saudis are ending up in very conservative, very radical Sunni militias that may end up using those weapons against the United States and our allies.

[13:50:21] KEILAR: Nima, you've been, with this reporting, in a unique position of knowing more than the U.S. government does about where its weapons are ending up. What did you think about how Capitol Hill is responding to your report? ELBAGIR: To General Votel's point where he describes weapons being

given to allies ending up in a conflict situation in the hands of enemies, that's not what happened here. These were weapons that were knowingly transferred from the United Arab Emirates, that they admit to knowingly transferring to groups under the coalition's aegis. Saudi Arabia publicly announce it had on Saudi-backed media channels in addition to what we heard from coalition sources. They publicly announced that they were air dropping -- which is incredibly irresponsible. That's not a mechanism that you have a lot of control over. They were air dropping antitank missiles with a three-kilometer radius to a military front that includes an al Qaeda-linked group. Where this seems to be breaking down is that the United Arab Emirates, as they see it, believe that they have the right to transfer this weaponry, even though the United States has been pretty categoric that they do not -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Senator, what do you say to that? What can Congress do? That's on outstanding point that Nima makes. This isn't as General Votel describes it. This is knowingly being transferred in violation of these armed sales agreements.

MURPHY: We have raised these concerns with the administration before. We have known for a long time that the Saudis and UAE have created coalitions with very dangerous militias on the ground inside Yemen. This is not news to the administration. Many of us are worried about those groups that are inside the Saudi-led coalition. But the Saudis also have been violating the rules of conflicts for years now. When they use our bombs, they're not supposed to intentionally drop them on civilians, and yet we have all sort of good reporting from inside Yemen to show they've been using U.S.-made bombs, U.S.-made targeting systems, U.S. refueling planes to intentionally attack civilian targets. And so it is also not as if our military didn't have notice that the Saudis have in the past violated the conditions of our alliance, so this should not be surprising to them given that history.

KEILAR: How do you deal with this, Senator, when we've seen the administration, the president in particular, rhetorically and in very real ways, be soft on Saudi Arabia, for instance. What is -- what can be done aside from the administration where we're seeing this reticence to be tough on the Saudis?

MURPHY: Congress can pull the United States out of this civil war. And in a few weeks, we will offer a resolution on the floor of the Senate to do that, which will likely get the majority of Senators voting in favor of it, Democrats and Republicans. The House will take up that resolution. It will have a majority of the House as well. The president may still veto that resolution, but that doesn't mean that Congress shouldn't exercise our responsibility to be a co-equal branch with the president in setting foreign policy. As the reporting shows, the danger of staying in this civil war is not just that more military hardware will be transferred to dangerous militias, it's that we will continue to be part of a war that is creating a humanitarian catastrophe that's already resulted in 85,000 little kids dying of starvation or disease. Congress has got to take a vote to pull us out of this war. KEILAR: Nima, your report was -- it took us right to that point that

the Senator is talking about, to see these children who -- they look -- they look younger than they are because they're so malnourished, and it is heartbreaking in the story you tell. What needs to be done to stem this humanitarian crisis?

ELBAGIR: Well, everyone we've spoken to on the ground is clear on one point, they need a real cease-fire. And the problem, is when you have so many parties to the conflict empowered by this easy access to weaponry, it's very difficult to police a cease-fire. And that is what needs to happen. The parties to the conflict, even on a higher- level, I.E., the coalition, they need to deliver on their promises to get aid to some of these areas cut off by the fighting. And we saw very little evidence of that on the ground -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Nima, thank you so much. Amazing reporting.

Nima Elbagir, really taking us into a place we wouldn't get to otherwise see.

And Senator Murphy, we really appreciate you being with us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

KEILAR: So just hours away from the State of the Union speech that his aides say is going to be bipartisan, the president and Senator Chuck Schumer are already trading barbs.

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