Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against rebels in Yemen, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. said Wednesday night.
“Saudi Arabia has launched military operations in Yemen, as part of a coalition of over 10 countries in response to a direct request from the legitimate government of Yemen," Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said at a press conference at the Saudi embassy.
Airstrikes began at 7 p.m. Eastern time (GMT2300), according to al-Jubeir, and aim to "protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis."
The operation followed the request of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
"Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the Kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC, launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government,” said al-Jubeir, using the acronym for the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said President Barack Obama has authorized "logistical and intelligence support" to the GCC's military operations, and the U.S. is establishing "a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support."
While pledging support for the operation, Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a statement that aslo criticized Obama for not having a more aggressive strategy in Yemen.
They said the country was recently praised by Obama as a model of U.S. counterterrorism but it has now deteriorated into a sectarian conflict and a regional proxy war that threatens to engulf the Middle East.
"This is as bizarre as it is misguided – another tragic case of leading from behind,” the senators said, using an oft-repeated Republican critique of Obama's foregn policy measures.
Yemen has been rocked by turmoil since last September, when the rebels overran the capital from where they have sought to extend their influence to other parts of the country.
They have advanced to the southern port city of Aden, where Hadi was based after fleeing house arrest in the capital of Sanaa.
Hadi left his residence in Aden on Wednesday amid fighting with Houthi rebels and security forces in the city.
His whereabouts are unclear, however, as presidential sources say he is in Yemen but some local media report he has left the country.
In a statement, Riyadh said that four warplanes, anti-missile batteries and the Dulaimi airbase had been destroyed in the airstrikes, according to the official SPA news agency.
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