US closing embassy in Yemen amid continued unrest

World Today

Houthi Shiite Yemenis wearing army uniforms, stand guard outside parliament, during a meeting in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is closing its embassy in Yemen amid political deadlock and deteriorating security conditions after the takeover of the country by Shiite rebels, two U.S. officials said.

The officials said diplomats were being evacuated from the country on Tuesday and the embassy will suspend operations until conditions improve. Yemen has been in crisis for months with Iran-linked Shiite Houthi rebels besieging the capital and then taking control. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closure publicly on the record.

Marines providing the security at the embassy will also likely leave, officials said, but American forces conducting counterterrorism missions in other parts of the country would not be affected.

Maj. Brad Avots, a Pentagon spokesman, would only say that the Defense Department is always assessing security conditions on the ground and the military has evacuation assets available if they are requested by the State Department.

On Feb. 8, the embassy issued a warning to U.S. citizens in the country that they would be closing their consular services.

“The U.S. State Department warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens still in Yemen should make plans to depart immediately,” the embassy said in a statement.

The Houthis last week dissolved parliament and formally took over after months of clashes. They then placed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his Cabinet ministers under house arrest. Hadi and the ministers resigned in protest.

Earlier Tuesday, Yemeni military officials said the Houthis, aided by troops loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took full control of the key central province of Bayda province.

Bayda is the gateway to the country’s south, which remains in the hands of pro-independence southerners and to the strategic oil-rich Maarib province, to the east, also still not in rebel hands.

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen is the third in an Arab country that has closed since the turmoil of the Arab spring began in December 2010. The other two were embassies in Damascus, Syria and Tripoli, Libya. The embassy in Damascus was closed in Feb 2012 and the embassy in Tripoli was closed in July 2014.

The embassy in Yemen was operating with only a small portion of its usual diplomatic staff and had closed to the public for all but emergency services in January. It had been operating with reduced manpower since September 2014, when the State Department ordered all non-essential personnel to leave the country.

In May, 2014 the embassy in Saana was closed for several for several weeks due to heightened security threats.