US closes embassy in Yemen amid continued unrest
Updated: 2015-02-11 14:30
Anti-Houthi protesters shout slogans against the dissolution of Yemen's parliament and the takeover by the armed Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group, during a rally in the southwestern city of Taiz, February 10, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
WASHINGTON - The State Department confirmed late Tuesday that it has closed the US Embassy in Yemen and evacuated its staff because of the political crisis and security concerns following the takeover of much of the country by Shiite rebels.
The department announced it had suspended operations at the embassy in Sanaa and relocated its remaining diplomatic personnel "due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation." The embassy had been operating with only a skeleton staff for some weeks amid deteriorating conditions.
Yemen has been in crisis for months, with Shiite Houthi rebels besieging the capital and then taking control. Earlier Tuesday, US officials said the embassy closure would not affect counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida's Yemen branch.
"The United States remains firmly committed to supporting all Yemenis who continue to work toward a peaceful, prosperous and unified Yemen," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We will explore options for a return to Sanaa when the situation on the ground improves."
The State Department also issued a travel warning advising US citizens to defer travel to Yemen and urging US citizens currently living in Yemen to depart.
Two US officials said Marines providing the security at the embassy will also likely leave, but American forces conducting counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida's Yemen affiliate in other parts of the country would not be affected. The US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closure publicly on the record.
Although operations against al-Qaida's Yemen affiliate will continue, the closure of the embassy will be seen as a blow to the Obama administration, which has held up its partnership with ousted Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government as a model for his strategy in combatting terrorism, particularly in unstable countries.