April 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis began a weeklong tour of the Middle East in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, saying an end to Yemen's civil war must be politically brokered.
En route to Riyadh, Mattis said, "Our goal is for that crisis [in Yemen], that ongoing fight, be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible. It has gone on for a long time."
The United Nations estimated that more than 10,000 people have died in the two-year civil war, which involves government troops backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
Mattis said Tuesday that "Iranian-supplied missiles [are] being fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia."
Yemen is also a base for the al-Qaida terrorist organization and the site of more than 70 airstrikes against al-Qaida targets since a Navy SEAL died and six others were injured in a raid there Jan. 28.
After visiting officials in Saudi Arabia, Mattis will travel to Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti. Djibouti is the site of the United States' only military base in Africa, and where China is building its first overseas military base. Mattis, a retired general of the U.S. Marines, ended his military career as chief of Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. operations in the Middle East.