US Military Evacuates Embassy Personnel From Yemen
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military evacuated non-essential U.S. government personnel from Yemen on Tuesday due to the high threat of attack by al-Qaida that has triggered temporary shutdowns of 19 American diplomatic posts across the Middle East and Africa.
The State Department said in a travel warning that it had ordered the evacuation "due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks" and said U.S. citizens in Yemen should leave immediately because of an "extremely high" security threat level.
"As staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services remains limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation," the travel warning said. The U.S. Embassy is located in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the U.S. Air Force transported State Department personnel out of Sanaa early Tuesday. "The U.S. Department of Defense continues to have personnel on the ground in Yemen to support the U.S. State Department and monitor the security situation," Little added.
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez declined to provide additional details such as the number of people evacuated or the type of US aircraft used.
Britain’s Foreign Office also announced that it had evacuated all staff from its embassy in Yemen due to security concerns. The office said the British embassy staff were "temporarily withdrawn to the U.K." on Tuesday, but declined further comment. Previously, the U.K. had said the embassy would be closed until the end of the Muslim festival of Eid later this week.
A U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat told The Associated Press that the current shutdown of embassies in the Middle East and Africa was instigated by an intercepted secret message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, about plans for a major terror attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The U.S. has pummeled terrorist leaders in Yemen with targeted drone strikes. On Tuesday, Yemeni security officials said a suspected U.S. drone killed four alleged al-Qaida members in a volatile eastern province of the country. The drone fired a missile at a car carrying the four men, setting it on fire and killing all of them, the officials said.
The Yemeni officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, said they believe one of the dead is Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaida member. It’s the fourth drone attack in the past two weeks to hit a car believed to be carrying al-Qaida members.
The State Department on Sunday closed a total of 19 diplomatic posts until next Saturday. They include posts in Bangladesh and across North Africa and the Middle East as well as East Africa, including Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius.
Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a separate statement issued early Tuesday that the department issued the order for Yemen because of concern about a "threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. persons or facilities overseas, especially emanating from the Arabian Peninsula."
The statement said U.S. citizens who choose to stay in Yemen despite the travel warning should limit nonessential travel within the country and make their own contingency emergency plans.