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U.S. backing another potential quagmire in Yemen?

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Saudi Arabian and allied warplanes continued to pound purported positions of the Houthi Shiite rebellion sweeping across Yemen on Friday.

Aircraft from Saudi, the United Arab Emirates and have Bahrain dropped hundreds of bombs already in the three-day old assault, dwarfing the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin said the strikes occurred mostly around Yemen's capital, Sanaa and bases to the north and south of the city.

A U.S. official told me he expected the war -- which Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir announced at the country's embassy in Washington D.C. this week -- to last a few weeks.

I have a visa and was planning to return to Yemen, where I spent much of last year, soon. Yeminia Airlines was selling tickets as of Thursday afternoon on its Duabi-Aden-Sanaa route. Those flights were canceled Friday.

The U.S. official was being optimistic.

It's hard to imagine a Saudi-led campaign, or any foreign force, bringing former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied with and is likely in command of the Houthis and who warned Saudi Arabia not to invade, to heel in a short time. He controls or counts as allies not just the Houthis, but most of the nation's military, a significant proportion of its powerful tribes and nearly the entire security apparatus.

Egypt, which invaded Yemen in 1962, is back. The Saud clan, which took three Yemeni provinces in 1934, is back. The Yemenis will again go to the mountains. This may become a guerrilla war.

Shi'ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.
Shi'ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.
Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

In 1962, the Egyptians called the Yemenis "peasants," and they were humiliated. Saudi soldiers are no match for Yemeni mountain fighters. They too have lost to them before.

The attacks by Saudi jets Thursday on Sanaa are likely to incite rage. It's like bombing Manhattan. People live incredibly close together. There is no such thing as a "Houthi position" in the crammed city - a tank here or there and checkpoints, but the airstrikes demolished entire buildings.

Houthis have long been concentrated in the north, around Sada, but they also live in Sanaa, and have for centuries.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are backing the most recently elected leader of Yemen, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi this week as the Houtis closed in on his last bastion of safety in the southern city of Aden.

But in spite of the fact that he's a Sunni Muslim, the majority in Yemen, Hadi has little support in his own country. His family has no historical links to power, and the powerful tribes over the last three years have never embraced him.

Hadi, a military man, who has trained in Egypt and in the former Soviet Union, was for 17 years a silent vice president to Saleh, a strong man, with a strong personality. Hadi is a quiet man and, smartly, stayed out of the spotlight.

After the Arab Spring of 2011, Saleh, who ruled for 33 years, was forced to step down, and in February 2012 Hadi won an uncontested election to replace him. But since then he has still not stood out and be the strong forceful leader, because of his personality, that Yemenis want.

He is widely seen as a good man, and the U.S. backs him, but he has not been there, free of Saleh, confidently out in front and, as a result, has yet to win over, as a politician must, the people.

There is no one who the U.S. and Saudi can bring back into power at the moment, except Hadi. They can prop him up, but the Yemenis will decide in the end.