U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh would, in the short term, likely worsen an already dire humanitarian situation in the country.
Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in Yemen’s civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favor of a Saudi-led coalition.
Mattis, speaking with reporters on a military aircraft en route to Washington after a brief trip to parts of the Middle East and South Asia, said it was too early to say what impact the killing would have on the war.
“(But)one thing I think I can say with a lot of concern and probably likelihood is that the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to (get) worse in the short term,” Mattis said. He did not explain his reasoning.
The war has already killed more than 10,000 and displaced millions.
“So this is where we’ve all got to roll up our sleeves. Now, what are you going to do about medicine and food and clean water and cholera,” Mattis said.
Analysts said Saleh’s death would be a huge moral boost for the Houthis and a serious blow to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the conflict to try to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.