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Saudi Arabia Regrets Civilian Casualties During Operations In Yemen


We asked a Saudi general to drop by our studios the other day. We wanted to ask him about the war unfolding next door to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It's been a little over a year now since that war began and a year since a Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes against Shiite rebels.

In that year, more than 6,000 people have died, according to the United Nations, nearly half of them - so about 3,000 people - were civilians. And that is a point I wanted to I wanted to put to Saudi general Ahmad Asiri.

How do you respond to criticism that Saudi airstrikes are killing thousands of civilians?

AHMAD ASIRI: We regret any casualty. And we - there is no intention to have those casualties in Yemen if it happens because Yemen is our neighbor. We have family in both sides of the borders. We have very deep relationships.

KELLY: The United Nations also says that while there have been war crimes committed by multiple parties in this conflict that the majority of civilian deaths have come from airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.

ASIRI: If you allow me, we - the kingdom in particular and the 12 countries who came to Yemen to secure human the Yemeni doesn't have...

KELLY: You're talking about your coalition partners, mostly other Arab nations.

ASIRI: ...Doesn't have any ambition in Yemen. Why we go to Yemen? Why we lose our resources? Why we lose our boys? Why we lose our equipment? Is it because we want to have influence in Yemen or to occupy the Yemeni country? No because we saw population undermined and oppressed by the militias. This is why.

KELLY: We interviewed on this program last month an official from Human Rights Watch. She described an airstrike on a village in rural Yemen that killed 97 people. Human Rights Watch sent a team. They examined the site. They concluded that this was an indiscriminate strike carried out by Saudi Arabia.

ASIRI: Unfortunately, today, there is no team from Human Rights Watch on the ground.

KELLY: They went. They saw it.

ASIRI: No. No one can get in Yemen without the permission of the coalition. So we don't have single permission from the United Nations on the ground.

We hope that Human Rights Watch and the other NGOs come to the coalition and ask permission and we will send them down to investigate. We need to investigate those allegations. You cannot...

KELLY: I think you and Human Rights Watch are going to agree to disagree. My question is whether the Saudi intervention has improved things. The country remains in chaos after more than a year of fighting. Are you any closer to your goals or bringing stability to the country?

ASIRI: I think this is not precise, saying this. Today, what is the result? At that time, the militias doesn't want to talk peacefully with the government. Today, they are talking.

KELLY: You're talking about these peace talks...

ASIRI: Yes, peace talks underway in Kuwait.

KELLY: ...That are underway in Kuwait.

ASIRI: Second, at that time, they were holding 300 ballistic missile which reached 500 kilometers. Today, they not fire it anymore.

We ask those who could decide the situation do you have an alternative? Either we have to reach the solution through the talk - and this is the priority one. If not, what we will do? We will trying or we are waiting until it becomes another Somalia.

KELLY: With these peace talks underway in Kuwait, trying to negotiate some sort of political settlement, are you optimistic that there is an end to the conflict in Yemen somewhere in sight?

ASIRI: Look, as a general, we never give up. We have to find a solution. At the end of the day, Yemen is our neighbor. We cannot change geography, so we have to find solution.

KELLY: General, thank you.

ASIRI: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That's Gen. Ahmad Asiri. He is spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.