Washington, 3 Rabi’ul Akhir 1436/24 January 2015 (MINA) – The United States has pulled more staff out of its embassy in Yemen, US officials said on Thursday as Washington scrambled to cope with the collapse of a government that had been a key ally in the fight against Al Qaida.
The scaling down of its presence in Yemen is the first sign that the latest turmoil there will affect US operations in a country that President Barack Obama hailed just four months ago as a model for “successful” counter-terrorism partnerships.
The US diplomatic contingent in Sana’a was drawn down due to the deteriorating security situation in the Yemeni capital, the officials said. They insisted there were no plans to close the embassy, which could been seen as erosion of US resolve in counter-terrorism operations in the volatile Arab country, Gulfnews quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
However, current and former US officials say the chaos engulfing Yemen has already threatened the administration’s strategy against a powerful local Al Qaida branch.
Word of the withdrawal of more US personnel came on the day that Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi stepped down, throwing the country deeper into chaos days after Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels battled their way into his presidential palace.
“We are still assessing the implications,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The State Department had already reduced staff at the embassy in recent months to essential personnel, mostly related to security matters, as the fighters from the Al Houthi minority seized control of the capital.
“While the Embassy remains open and is continuing to operate, we may continue to realign resources based on the situation on the ground,” a senior State Department official said. “We will continue to operate as normal, albeit with reduced staff.”
US officials had hoped that Hadi’s announcement on Wednesday that he was ready to make concessions to the Al Houthi movement would calm the situation but that prospect fell apart just a day later.
Washington is concerned that the chaos in Yemen could create conditions that Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will exploit to strengthen its base of support there and use the country to plot attacks on Western interests. AQAP claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Paris early this month.
Some US officials believe that while the Al Houthis are determined to wield more power in Yemen the movement may not want to assume responsibility for actually governing the divided, impoverished country.
But overall the Obama administration appears to have few contacts with the Al Houthis and remains concerned that their emergence as the country’s main power brokers will mean greater influence for Iran in Yemen’s affairs, a prospect that also worries neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
US officials say Iran has backed the Al Houthi rebellion with financial and political support and that shipments of Iranian weapons have also been found destined for the group.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a frequent Obama critic, said events in Yemen reflected misguided US policy and called for a full evacuation of the embassy there. Obama’s earlier hailing of Yemen as a counter-terrorism success, he added, showed the president “is either delusional or misinformed.” The crisis poses another major challenge to Obama’s efforts to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A US official said Washington had no intention of repatriating any of the nearly four dozen Yemeni detainees already approved for transfer from the internationally condemned jail while the security situation remains unstable in Yemen.(T/P009/P3)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)