Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen, broadening that country's civil conflict into a regional war.
The Saudis began the strikes to bolster the position of the Yemeni government against the rapid advance of the Shiite militias backed by Iran, the Saudi ambassador to the United States said Wednesday.
The objective of the airstrikes is to "defend the legitimate government" of Yemen and prevent the takeover of Yemen by the Houthi militia groups, Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters at the Saudi embassy in Washington.
The strikes began at 7 p.m. EDT and hit targets across Yemen, Al-Jubeir said.
"The use of force is always the last resort," he said.
In Sana, the capital, explosions were heard early Thursday. Many military sites that were under the control of Houthis were reportedly destroyed by the airstrikes.
A spokesperson for the Houthis said that Saudi Arabia started the attack and would have to deal with the consequences.
"They started the attack and we have the right to defend ourselves and we know what we will do to stop and stand against the attacks of [Saudi Arabia] and all other [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries that participated in the attack against Yemen," the spokesman said.
Al-Jubeir said attempts to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement were made over the last several weeks, but the effort was "thwarted by the Houthis" who have "always chosen the path of violence."
The Houthis took control of Sana in the fall. With the help of Iranian weapons and advisors, they have swept toward the south of the country, taking control of key bases, airports and ballistic missiles belonging to the Yemeni military. Saudi Arabia shares a 1,000-mile border with Yemen.
Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said the Houthis' actions against the Yemeni government have caused "widespread instability and chaos" in the country.
"President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations," Meehan said in a statement. "While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support."
Times staff writer Bennett reported from Washington and special correspondent al-Alayaa from Sana, Yemen.