U.S., U.K. withdraw from embassies in Yemen

Feb 11, 2015, 1:59 AM EST
Shiite Huthi fighters loyal to the Republican Guard forces supporting former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's are seen in an armed vehicle in the Al-Bayda province, south of Sanaa, on February 10, 2015 as they clash with armed militiamen.
AFP/Getty Images

As the conflict arising from the political unrest in Yemen deepens, foreign diplomatic staff from the United States and the United Kingdom stationed in the Arabian Peninsula state are being removed and brought home.

Reuters reports that U.S. officials in Washington confirmed the embassy would close because of the unpredictable security situation in a country where a rebel group has seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and threats of a civil war loom.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined comment. But she noted that the embassy staff had been gradually reduced and said the safety of the personnel was a top priority. "We take steps in order to make sure we do everything we can to protect that," she told a regular briefing.

The move is a tricky one for Washington. Yemen is home base to Al Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula - one of the militant group's most active branches. The United States has long used drones to attack the militants, a strategy critics say has failed to make a decisive difference and has stoked anti-U.S. sentiment.

One U.S. official said a contingent of around 100 Marines was helping protect the U.S. embassy in Yemen, according to the Reuters report. Another official said a Navy amphibious assault ship, the USS Iwo Jima, was in the Red Sea off Yemen’s coast and would be available to help with the evacuation of embassy staff, if requested by the State Department.

British diplomatic staff in Yemen have been withdrawn and the embassy closed due the security situation in the country, the Foreign Office has said, according to the BBC. Embassy staff and its premises are at "increased risk" and all Britons who remain in Yemen should leave immediately, it said. 

"The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days," Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said. "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. Our Ambassador and diplomatic staff have left Yemen this morning and will return to the UK."