Britain reportedly has withdrawn its remaining special forces from Yemen,
days after a similar U.S. move, in response to the worsening security
that the U.N. envoy for Yemen described as the “edge of civil war.”
reported development comes as Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen
called on his Arab neighbors to intervene militarily to stop the inroads
made by Shiite Houthi fighters in the predominantly Sunni Muslim
Reuters, quoting a person familiar with the matter,
reported on the U.K.’s withdrawal of its special forces. Britain
withdrew staff from its embassy in Sanaa last month and suspended
operations because of the deteriorating security situation there.
The U.S. Embassy suspended operations last month for the same reasons, and Saturday the State Department said
“the U.S. Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel
out of Yemen.” The Associated Press reported over the weekend that U.S.
military forces, including Special Forces commandos, evacuated the Al
Anad air base near the southern city of al-Houta, which was seized by
al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
But The New York Times reported
that “[e]ven after the withdrawal of American troops, the Central
Intelligence Agency will still maintain some covert Yemeni agents in the
country. Armed drones will carry out some airstrikes from bases in
nearby Saudi Arabia or Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as was done most
recently on Feb. 20. Spy satellites will still lurk overhead and
eavesdropping planes will try to suck up electronic communications.”
Yaseen, the Yemeni foreign minister, urged his Gulf state neighbors for help against the gains made by the Houthi rebels.
have addressed both the [Gulf Cooperation Council] and the U.N. for the
need of [imposing] a no-fly zone and banning the use of warplanes at
the airports controlled by the Houthis,” he told al-Sharq al-Awsat, the pan-Arab newspaper.
The unrest in Yemen began earlier this year when the Houthis, who follow a strain of Shiite Islam, took control of Sanaa, the capital, and subsequently dissolved Parliament and seized power.
The Houthi movement, which began in 2004, wants greater autonomy for
the north of Yemen. Its members are avowedly anti-U.S., but are also
battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded as the most
successful al-Qaida franchise. They are also likely to take on the
self-described Islamic State, which last Friday claimed responsibility
for bomb attacks on two mosques in Sanaa frequented by Houthi
supporters; 139 people were killed. Both AQAP and ISIS are Sunni and
regard Shiites as heretics.
Add to this mix regional rivalries.
The overwhelming majority of the Gulf states – and indeed the wider
Muslim world – is Sunni. Iran, however, is Shiite, and is seen as backing the Houthis.
This greatly worries the region’s Sunni powers, primarily Saudi Arabia,
who are already watching with alarm Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq
as well as Tehran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear
Jamal Benomar, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, told
an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, that the
country had been pushed “towards the edge of civil war.”
the suicide bombings and fighting, emotions are running extremely high,
and unless a solution can be found in the coming days the country will
slide into further violent conflict and fragmentation,” he said.
The U.S. has played a key role in Yemen, carrying out drone strikes against al-Qaida members in Yemen. Just last September,
President Obama cited Yemen (along with Somalia) as a successful
example of America’s counterterrorism strategy. Five months later, that
seems an unlikely example.
The Washington Post reported last week
that the Pentagon can’t account for more than $500 million in military
aid to Yemen, “amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is
at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda.” And The Times reported today:
“The loss of Yemen as a base for American counterterrorism training,
advising and intelligence-gathering carries major implications not just
there, but throughout a region that officials say poses the most
grievous threat to United States global interests and to the country
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