The Cable

Reports: U.S. Embassy in Yemen to Shut Down

The United States is preparing to evacuate its embassy in Yemen Wednesday.

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The U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, has been operating with limited staff since Houthi rebels forced American-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from power on Jan. 22. Now, as U.N.-backed negotiations between the Shiite militants and Yemeni political parties falter, multiple reports say the State Department is about to shutter the diplomatic post.

Employees at the embassy told Reuters Tuesday they were cleaning out offices and expect to leave by tomorrow. U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller is also expected to flee by Wednesday. This follows the Feb. 5 collapse of talks between Houthis, who now control the capital, and a series of Yemeni political parties. The militants’ leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, seized control of Yemen’s government the following day, calling his actions a “responsible act” taken in the “best interests of the country.”

It was not immediately clear whether the embassy was being permanently closed or whether its operations are being suspended temporarily, until security improves in Sanaa.

The State Department generally does not discuss embassy evacuations until all personnel are out and safe, and spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to confirm or deny the reports. “The safety and security of U.S. personnel in Yemen is our top priority,” she told reporters at a daily State briefing, adding: “We have been reducing staff in Yemen over the last few weeks.”

She also would not substantiate reports of gunmen near the U.S. outpost or whether the volatility of the group was impacting U.S. anti-terrorism operations against al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Pentagon press secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby also declined to comment about the embassy closure.

Hadi’s fall is a black eye for President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism strategy. The president often cited Yemen as a successful example of his small-war model of fighting terrorism that favors drone strikes, special forces, and the training of local troops to fight extremists instead of deploying large numbers of American forces. After the coup, U.S. officials said American troops would carry out more missions on their own.

“Yemen has never been a perfect democracy or an island of stability,” Obama said late last month as the Houthis seized power. “Our efforts to go after terrorist networks inside of Yemen without an occupying U.S. army, but rather by partnering and intelligence-sharing with that local government, is the approach that we’re going to need to take.”

U.S. airstrikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the global terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, have continued since Hadi and his cabinet left power. Officials told wire services that Tuesday’s decision to evacuate U.S. Embassy staff would not affect U.S. forces already on the ground there.

Since December 2010 the United States has closed embassies in Damascus, Syria, and Tripoli, Libya, due to unrest. Last month, the Pentagon pre-emptively moved two warships to the Red Sea to help with a potential embassy evacuation in Yemen.

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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