The White House is defending its assertion that its strategy in Yemen is still a model for counterterrorism policy, even as Saudi Arabia began U.S.-supported strikes against rebels in the country.

“We need to separate out two things here,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The measure of the U.S. policy should not be graded against the success or stability of the Yemeni government. The goal of U.S. policy toward Yemen has never been to try to build a Jeffersonian democracy there. The goal of U.S. policy in Yemen is to make sure that Yemen cannot be a safe haven that extremists can use to attack the West and to attack the United States.”


Earnest took questions at his Wednesday briefing about the White House’s continued insistence that its model in Yemen has been successful. He said the strategy in Yemen "is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen and Somalia, and is a template that we believe can succeed in mitigating the threat emanating from Syria as well."

He said on Thursday morning that even as the government in Yemen disintegrated, the U.S. could continue to run counterterrorism operations in the country.

“But the fact is, even though U.S. person is no longer in Yemen, the United States continues to have the capacity and resources and reach to be able to take strikes when necessary against extremists,” he said.

Still, Earnest did say that there was "no doubt" that the administration "would prefer a situation where there is a stable government."

The U.S. is supporting Saudi airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, who this week drove President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from the city of Aden.

“While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan in a statement on Wednesday.

“At the same time, the United States continues to closely monitor terrorist threats posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and will continue to take action as necessary to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.”

Yemen has been a home base for many U.S. operations against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including drone strikes.