Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Al Qaeda group takes over army base in South Yemen as US and UK close embassies

Both the US and UK close their embassies in Yemen as security deteriorates after Houthi rebels took over government. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) took control of an army base in the south.

Only four Yemeni soldiers and one AQAP fighter were killed in the raid. Members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, took control of the base, a garrison for the Yemeni army’s 19th brigade, then freed some 60 captured soldiers, according to government officials and a media liaison for AQAP. The attackers seized many weapons and even off road vehicles. The base is in the southern province of Shabwa. AQAP has had repeated clashes with the forces of the Houthi rebels who recently took power in Yemen after the failure of a political compromise. This is AQAP's biggest success on the battlefield since the Houthis took power. The US has closed it embassy in Yemen temporarily. A statement from the embassy in the capital Sanaa said: "Recent unilateral actions disrupted the political transition process in Yemen, creating the risk that renewed violence would threaten Yemenis and the diplomatic community in Sana’a,"

Reports say that US vehicles were seized at the airport as embassy staff were evacuated. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the vehicles had been confiscated. Hower, Hussein Ezzi, a Houthi spokesperson, said that 30 US vehicles that were at the airport would be handed over to the UN and that the whole affair was a misunderstanding. Only a few moments later the UK embassy also announced it was evacuating its staff as well and closing: "The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days. Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk. We have therefore decided to withdraw diplomatic staff and temporarily suspend the operations of the British Embassy in Sana'a." France, Germany, and Italy also closed their embassies citing the security situation.

The move may be a prelude to cutting aid to the Houthi government after it forced the resignation of US and western ally former president Mansour Hadi before finally taking power themselves. The UN special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar in an interview said: “We believe the situation is very dangerous. Yemen is on the brink of civil war”. While the Houthi are bitter enemies of AQAP, they are also anti-American and opposed to drone strikes. The former government cooperated closely with US operations in Yemen.

 Although the Yemen embassy may be closed, drone operations could very well continue and there are also special forces in Yemen who may remain. Presence of US forces was confirmed as long ago as 2012. While US operations against terrorism in Yemen will continue, they may not have the support of the Houthi government even though AQAP is a common enemy. Apparently, many of the army brigades in the south are opposed to the Houthi rule. This might explain why the battle for the base appears to have been brief with few casualties. It would also explain why the captured soldiers were released by AQAP. AQAP may be taking advantage of splits within the armed forces that are now under the control of a Supreme Security Council dominated by Houthi members. AQAP attacked the base after learning that the base was to be handed over to Houthi forces. The base would provide a staging area that the Houthis could use for attacks on adjacent Sunni dominated areas in Marib and Shabwa provinces. Some Sunni tribes are becoming allies of AQAP in battling the advance of Houthis into Sunni areas.

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