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American-made bombs in Yemen are killing civilians, destroying infrastructure and fueling anger at the U.S.

War rains down from the sky in Yemen, where an aerial bombing campaign by Saudi-led and American-backed coalition hammers much of the north. The U.S. military supports the campaign against the Houthi rebels with logistics and intelligence, and sells the Saudis many of the bombs it drops on that country. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson smuggled herself across front lines to report this series.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, we continue our exclusive series from behind rebel lines in Yemen.

    Last night, we reported on the acute manmade hunger crisis amid the ongoing war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition.

    Tonight, we look at the United States' support for that coalition and the effect arms sales and other American assistance has on the conflict.

    To see what is happening on the ground, special correspondent Jane Ferguson smuggled herself across the front lines to report this series. And, as she reports, the effects are profound, and deadly.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Inside rebel territory in Yemen, the war rains down from the sky. On the ground, front lines have not moved much in the past three years of conflict.

    Instead, an aerial bombing campaign by the Saudi-led and American-backed coalition hammers much of the country's north, leaving scenes like this dotted across the capital city, Sanaa, and beyond.

    A few weeks before I arrived, this gas station was hit. Security guard Abdul Al Badwi was in a building next door when it happened. He says six civilians were killed.

    Why did they target here?

    Can't explain why they would have targeted something like this.

    Elsewhere in the city, a government office building was recently hit. Another pile of rubble, another monument to the civilian deaths of this war.

    When this building was hit, it was mostly clerical workers in offices who were injured. And you can still see their blood smeared all over the walls as they were evacuated after the airstrike.

    In 2014, Yemeni rebels called Houthis seized the capital and much of the rest of the country. The Houthis are supported by Sunni Saudi Arabia's archrival, Shiite Iran, so the next year, the Saudis mobilized a coalition of Arab militaries to defeat the group.

    The aerial bombing campaign has not managed to dislodge the rebels, but has hit weddings, hospitals and homes. The U.S. military supports the Saudi coalition with logistics and intelligence. The United States it also sells the Saudis and coalition partners many of the bombs they drop on Yemen.

    In the mountains outside the capital, we gained exclusive access to the site where the Houthis store unexploded American-made bombs, like this 2000 pound Mark 84 bomb made in Garland, Texas. It landed in the middle of the street in the capital, we are told.

    One of the men here told me where each was found around Sanaa.

  • Man (through translator):

    One month ago, it landed near the Shaharah Bridge next to the central bank of Yemen. It didn't explode.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    He also showed me the fin of a Mark 82 bomb used to guide it to its target.

    Back in the city, the Houthis also let us see a storage site with the remains of American-made cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are amongst the most deadly to civilians, filled with baseball-sized smaller bombs that scatter over a larger area.

    Any that don't explode stay where they fell, primed, and often wounding civilians like land mines. The Houthis have also targeted civilians, throwing anyone suspected of opposing them in jail.

    I traveled deep into Yemen's countryside to find out more about how the bombing campaign is affecting peoples' lives there.

    This is what I found, a Doctors Without Borders cholera treatment center completely destroyed by an airstrike the day before. It was just about to open its doors to patients.

    The war has made it harder for people to access clean running water, leading to the worst cholera outbreak in modern history. Now, every time the rains come, people fall ill.

    Cholera is a seasonal disease here in Yemen, and that's why the aid organizations are getting ready for the worst of the cholera season coming up. This facility was brand-new.

    No one was killed here, but the loss of the precious medical facility filled with lifesaving equipment is devastating.

  • Lise Grande:

    That's quite clearly a contravention of humanitarian law. There is no question of that.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The United Nations warns the Saudi-led coalition on the location of thousands of humanitarian facilities across the country, requesting they don't bomb them.

    Lise Grande is the U.N. Development Program coordinator in Yemen.

  • Lise Grande:

    If you look at the total number of requests that we have in and the total number of violations, there have been few violations compared to the requests. But when those violations occur, they are serious indeed.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    In a refugee camp closer to fighting along the Saudi border, people told me they were attacked by warplanes in the last camp they lived in.

    In 2015, Mazraq refugee camp was bombed by coalition jets. Radiyah Hussein lost a grandson in the attack and walked for days to get here.

  • Radiyah Hussein (through translator):

    They attacked the camp with three missiles in one day, and then we ran away.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    On the road to the refugee camp, several bridges had been bombed. Anger towards America is growing in rebel-held areas of Yemen.

    Most people here, whether they support the Houthis or not, know that many of the bombs being dropped are American. It provides a strong propaganda tool for the Houthi rebels, who go by the slogan "Death to America."

    Dr. Ali Al Motaa is a college professor. He did his doctorate in the U.S., but is a strong Houthi supporter.

  • Dr. Ali Al Motaa:

    The missiles that kill us, American-made. The planes that kill us, American-made. The tanks, Abrams, American-made. You are saying to me, where is America? America is the whole thing.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Despite desperate efforts to end the fighting in Yemen, the violence is getting worse. The Saudi-led coalition launched an attack on Houthi-controlled Hodeidah city last month.

    The city is home to hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, and aid organizations warned that the attack could kill many civilians. As the bombs began to fall, these people fled to the capital, Sanaa.

  • Dura Issa (through translator):

    My house is a traditional house, and when the bomb landed, the gate was blown off and the roof was gone.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Dura Issa's house was hit. Her family got out alive, but she is now homeless, trying to care for her severely disabled son.

  • Dura Issa (through translator):

    I don't know where to stay tonight. We don't have the money for a hotel. We cannot afford it. We left in a hurry, scared. We left everything.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Ahead of the battle the coalition warned civilians to get out.

  • Mohammed Issa (through translator):

    The coalition announced on the TV that we have to leave. They didn't tell us anything. They just told us to go out. The Houthis made trenches. My house is next to the sea and the battles are there.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Millions of Yemenis are just like him, living in fear of the battle raging near their homes or an airstrike killing them and their families.

    Both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition have disregarded innocent civilian life in this war. Every bomb that falls on a hospital, office building or home causes more unease about where they come from.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson in Sanaa, Yemen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jane's final story airs later this week.

    And you can watch all of her reporting and read her reporter's notebook from her brave journey behind rebel lines. That's on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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