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Saudi Arabia launches airstrikes against Houthis in Yemen

The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. says his country has begun airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who drove out the U.S.-backed Yemeni president.

Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against Houthi fighters in Yemen, an air campaign the Saudi ambassador said would be limited in scope and is being conducted "to protect the legitimate government of Yemen."

Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir says the air campaign began at 7 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday . The development seemed to bolster fears that the oil-rich nation might be drawn into the conflict.

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"The use of force is always the last resort," al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Al-Jubeir said nine other countries have joined a coalition to prevent the Houthis from taking over Yemen, but did not name them. He said the U.S. is not participating in military operations.

"We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling and from facing any dangers from an outside militia," al-Jubeir said. "We have a situation where you have a militia group that is now in control."

Two American officials told NBC News Saudi airstrikes were conducted near Sana'a Wednesday.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets are hitting a military base, known as al-Duleimi, in Sana'a. They said they fired anti-aircraft missiles in response.

The Saudi airstrikes come after reports that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled his palace in Aden ahead of advancing Houthis, Shiite fighters seen as being backed by Iran. The Associated Press reported that Hadi fled the country by boat, but his whereabouts are unknown.

Reports that Hadi had fled Aden came hours after Houthi fighters seized an air base formerly used by the U.S. and Europe in the fight against al-Qaeda, both The Associated Press and Reuters reported. The air base is only 35 miles from Aden, and the seizure threw the city into a state of "chaos," one Yemeni loyal to President Hadi told NBC News.

The escalating crisis in Yemen prompted the U.S. to withdraw its advisors and intelligence officials from the country over the weekend. A senior U.S. military official told NBC News that the military was told that Hadi was thinking about leaving with them at that time, but he stayed in the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article originally appeared on