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Behind deadly Yemen air raid, threat of Al Qaeda looms large

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.

“The U.S. should not strive to have a solely one-dimensional relationship with Yemen that is focused exclusively on counterterrorism,” said Gregory Johnsen, Yemen researcher at Princeton University. “By focusing on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of nearly every other challenge and by linking all of its aid to this single issue, the U.S. has ensured that it will always exist.”

Christopher Boucek associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agrees: "The fighting in the Saada war does nothing to further stabilize Yemen. There isn't a military solution in this conflict."

He continued: "Then there is the other aspect, that the Yemen government has a little power to deal with multiple aspects at the same time. For example, if dealing with Saada then they are not dealing with terrorism issue. There is a fear the government gets distracted and they aren't working out issues that the U.S. and the international community wants them to work on. Additionally, there is the fear that the fact that the Yemeni government has not yet been able to put down the insurrection in Saada emboldens other actors in Yemen."

The U.S. response to the turn of events in Yemen has been muted. A State Department official told the GlobalPost in an email that "the United States views with deep concern the continuation of armed conflict between the Government of Yemen and Houthi rebels in the Saada governorate in northern Yemen." Then, in early September and during the heat of fighting in Saada, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan, hand delivered a letter from President Barack Obama to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh which came “in the context of an ongoing dialogue between Yemen and the U.S. government regarding counterterrorism."

Yemen has been part of the U.S.'s so-called war on terror since 2002, however since that time the country has suffered from an increased Al Qaeda presence highlighted by an attack on the U.S. embassy in September 2008.

Additionally, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the localized branch of the terrorist network, claimed responsibility for the failed attack on Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in late August.

Furthermore, two Middle East super powers, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran have been accused of supporting opposing sides in the government versus Houthi battle, commonly referred to as the Saada war that has been flaring up periodically since 2004.