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Shiite Houthi rebels overtook the presidential palace in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Tuesday, marking what a government minister called "the completion of a coup."
"The President has no control," Minister of Information Nadia Sakkaf told CNN as clashes raged.
President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi was thought to be in his private residence at the time -- not in the palace. There were reports of clashes near the residence.
And the Prime Minister's residence was under attack from the street, Sakkaf said.
If helicopters and V-22 aircraft from the ships are sent to Sanaa, it would be a complex operation that could last for several days to fully evacuate "several hundred Americans" from the embassy, the official cautioned. "Nobody should think this would be easy."
The military is aware the State Department wants to keep the embassy open as long as possible, the official said, noting that it's a valuable tool to monitor Al Qaeda in Yemen. But behind the scenes the Pentagon is pressing the point that if an evacuation becomes necessary they want to do it before the chaos in Sanaa descends into a 'non permissive environment," akin to combat. For now, the US believes the Houthis are not targeting Americans, but its not clear if that will last.
A crucially important conflict, woefully under-reported in the west, has now come to a head in the Middle East. In response to an ongoing fight that could spill out beyond the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia has entered into direct war with the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen.