The U.S. will close down its embassy in Yemen, citing instability and security risks. President Obama praised Yemen as a model for counter-terrorism just last year, but now its government has completely collapsed and Shi’ite Houthi fighters backed by Iran are in control. The country is also host to Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula and borders one of the largest oil producing countries in the world.
According to Reuters, State Department officials confirmed on Tuesday that the U.S. embassy would close by Wednesday. Embassy staff have been destroying documents and weapons in preparation for the closing.
NPR reports that this isn’t the first time the U.S. closed the embassy. In fact, the heavily fortified building is often closed off to the public, but the current security situation might be far more lasting than past crises.
Last month, Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to resign. Now, they appear to be loosely in control of at least the capital, but there is a chance that Yemen may soon fall into complete civil war.
What does this mean for the U.S. fight against Al Qaeda?
The Shi’ite Houthi are opposed to the Sunni Al Qaeda terrorist group, but their rhetoric is quite similar, especially the Houthi’s slogan.
“Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam!”
In the past, the U.S. has had a working relationship with President Hadi, which allowed American advisers to train Yemeni forces to fight terrorists. Likewise, they have been able to launch drone strikes against Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Those strikes have been controversial and the Houthi fighters are likely to oppose them, but Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby explained that the U.S. can still carry out more counter-terrorism operations.
“As I stand here today, we continue to conduct some training. We continue to have the capability – unilaterally if need be – of conducting counter-terrorism operations inside Yemen.”
Will there be international intervention in Yemen?
The government’s collapse marks an end to international efforts to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis, which began in 2011 on the heels of the Arab Spring. Al Arabiya News reports that British, French and German embassies have been destroying documents and gradually reducing staff as well. Those governments have not yet announced that their embassies would be closing.
The leader of the Houthi forces, Abdel Malik al-Houti, warned the world to stay out of Yemen. He appeared on television Tuesday saying it was “in the interest of every power, domestic and foreign, to stabilize this country.”
He added, “Any attempt to sow chaos or harm this country will have its repercussions on the interests of these powers.”
The Houthi fighters are reportedly backed by Iran, meaning that, as the U.S. closes its embassy, Iran gains a strong influence in the country.
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