US arms end up in wrong hands, including Iran’s, in Yemen’s civil war

Some found with militias, Iranian intelligence, according to report

U.S. weapons in Yemen wind up on both sides of civil war

(CNN) – American weapons sold to the Saudi-led coalition are in the hands of hardline militias, al Qaeda-linked groups, Iranian proxies and numerous other unchecked factions in Yemen’s civil war.

A swamp of uneasy alliances has led to sensitive U.S. weaponry, sold legally, ending up in the wrong hands, arguably prolonging Yemen’s conflict and making Americans less safe.

In an exclusive report, a CNN correspondent followed the trail of weapons made in America and lost to Yemen’s chaos.

Yemen is split between warring factions, U.S. backed and Saudi-led in the country’s south, Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the north.

Head of delegation for rebel forces known as Houthis, Mohammed Abdulsalam, right, and Yemen Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman, left, shake hands together with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, Sweden, Dec. 13, 2018. The United Nations secretary-general announced that Yemen's warring sides have agreed after week-long peace talks in Sweden to a province-wide cease-fire in Hodeida. (Pontus Lundahl/TT News agency via AP)
Head of delegation for rebel forces known as Houthis, Mohammed Abdulsalam, right, and Yemen Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman, left, shake hands together with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, Sweden, Dec. 13, 2018. The United Nations secretary-general announced that Yemen's warring sides have agreed after week-long peace talks in Sweden to a province-wide cease-fire in Hodeida. (Pontus Lundahl/TT News agency via AP) (AP)

At the Hodeidah front lines, where a ceasefire was recently signed, shells of millions of dollars worth of abandoned American armored vehicles litter the road.

It is a graveyard of American military hardware that was in command of the militias, which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreement with the U.S. The arms were intended for coalition forces.

On the outside of the mine-resistant armored vehicles, or MRAPs, there are even stickers proudly proclaiming them as property of Alwiyat al Amalqa, a militia allied to the coalition.

The serial numbers on the vehicles were traced to U.S. manufacturer Navistar, the largest provider of armored vehicles for the U.S. Army. Navistar did not respond to a request for comment.

One vehicle even bore the export sticker from Beaumont, TX, to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Houthis have also captured the MRAPs. To the backdrop of chants of “Death to America,” a U.S. MRAP was broadcast on a Houthi-backed channel with Mohammed Ali al Houthi sitting behind the wheel.

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

MRAPs and other machinery like them have also reportedly fallen into the hands of Iranian intelligence.

An audio interview with a member of a secret Houthi unit, the preventative security force, revealed that some U.S. military technology has been transferred to Iran.

Iranian intelligence is assessing U.S. military 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.

Advanced improvised explosive devices with Iranian components are mass-produced by Houthi forces on a scale only previously achieved by Islamic State. The U.S’s first line of defense against IEDs, the MRAP, has been compromised.

The Houthi leadership denied the existence of the preventative security force, and Iran didn’t respond to a request for comment.

At the very least, the high-profile captures of American hardware make potential enemies safer and harder to fight.

Homeless children stand on the road from Khoukha to Taiz in Yemen Feb. 12, 2018.(AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
Homeless children stand on the road from Khoukha to Taiz in Yemen Feb. 12, 2018.(AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File) (AP)

In the mountain city of Taiz, an al Qaeda-linked militia is reportedly in possession of American weaponry.

Images show the Abu al Abbas militia, currently on the U.S. terror list, proudly patrolling the streets of Taiz in U.S. MRAPs.

Taiz is also awash with weaponry. Arms markets are illegal in Yemen, but that hasn’t stopped them from operating.

Undercover cameras caught arms sellers hidden amid women’s clothing shops. There, one can put in a special order for an American assault rifle.

Sellers are driving a black market for high-tech American weapon sustaining the conflict.

Coalition sources said a deadlier U.S. weapons system - the TOW missile - was air-dropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to their fighters in Yemen, an airdrop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi-backed media channels.

When the U.S. Department of Defense was asked whether they knew what happened to the U.S. anti-tank missiles, they say 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.”

In response to the findings, the U.S. Department of Defense acknowledged for the first time that an investigation into violations by coalition partners of U.S. arms sales agreements is ongoing.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont cosponsored a resolution with Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, to recommend the U.S. stop supporting a war in Yemen, where people are facing death by starvation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont cosponsored a resolution with Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, to recommend the U.S. stop supporting a war in Yemen, where people are facing death by starvation.

In the meantime, 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.

A vote is expected on the bill in both houses this month.

The seemingly endless conflict has sparked a manmade catastrophe - starvation. Just a short distance from the frontlines, the human toll comes in to full view.

One child, Bashair, is so malnourished that she can’t actually walk. She has to be carried everywhere. There are 200 cases of malnutrition like Bashair’s just in one village.

The local clinic had to shut down, so when word that the doctor is here gets around, parents come out in to the street to meet her.

Rula is 14 months old but looks far smaller. Rehab, 2 years old, is so severely malnourished that her chest has begun to cave in but incredibly, she has started getting better. The doctor said that they’ve been able to get her to keep some of the nutrition in, and they’re actually hopeful she’ll survive.

That hope, though, depends on peace, and it seems there’s not much hope of a lasting one because of the easy access to weapons.

Wherever and with whomever the weapons end up, the war goes on and ultimately, it’s everyday people who - as ever - bear the brunt.

Copyright 2019 CNN. All rights reserved. Gray Television Group, Inc., contributed to this report.