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Aid groups have decried a government air strike that reportedly killed more than 80 civilians in a conflict that may pose a direct threat to the U.S.
SANAA, Yemen — The international reaction to government air strikes that reportedly killed scores of civilians fleeing fighting in northern Yemen has focused attention on a conflict that experts say has potentially broad implications for U.S security.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed "shock" Wednesday at the Yemeni military raid in the Amran Governorate two hours' drive from the capital which, according to Reuters, killed as many as 87 people, many of them women, children and elderly.
It urged "all parties" to the conflict — chiefly government forces and the Houthis, a Shiite militant group which lists among its grievances the Yemeni government’s alliance with the U.S. — to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population. It also called on Saudi Arabia, whose territory borders the conflict zone — which centers on the city of Saada — to offer safe shelter to displaced Yemenis fleeing heavy fighting over the past month.
U.N. workers have described as "dire" the humanitarian situation in Saada, which has been inaccessible to aid groups for more than a month, with civilians, including about 35,000 internally displaced people, trapped by fighting. There has been no running water or electricity in Saada since Aug. 12, and food reserves were running out. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the situation as having become more "precarious by the day."
However, underlying the localized nature of the conflict, experts say, is a potentially greater threat that stretches beyond Yemen's borders — and one that experts say the U.S. particularly should be concerned about.
Yemen has become a key player in U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region owing to an increasingly active branch of Al Qaeda in the country, which goes by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Yemeni government, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh — whose current problems stem largely from his record of corruption and neglect according to a recent article in The New York Times — is struggling to contain the domestic threats that further deteriorate the stability of the poverty-stricken nation and create a vacuum in which Al Qaeda is able to flourish.