WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has retained its ability to conduct counterterrorism operations inside Yemen, a Pentagon spokesman told Breitbart News.
“We still retain the [counterterrorism] capability [in Yemen],” asserted Marine Maj. Bradlee Avots, the Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson, told Breitbart News Wednesday evening.
Breitbart News asked Maj. Avots whether the Pentagon was still able to fight Yemen-based terrorists such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after the takeover of the U.S.-backed government by Iranian-backed Houthi Shiites and the country’s ongoing descent into utter chaos.
The U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa was evacuated on Wednesday.
Initially, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that U.S. Embassy Marines left behind vehicles and surrendered their M-9 pistols and M-4 carbines before being ordered to abandon the restive country along with diplomatic personnel onboard a civilian aircraft from Sanaa, reported Military.com.
However, the Marine Corps denied Col. Warren’s description of what the Marines did before they abandoned Yemen, reportedly at the behest of the State Department.
“All crew served weapons were destroyed at the embassy prior to movement. None of them were ‘handed over’ in any way to anyone. The destruction of weapons at the embassy and the airport was carried out in accordance with an approved destruction plan,” said the military branch in a statement.
“To be clear: No Marine handed a weapon to a Houthi, or had one taken from him,” the Marine Corps added.
Citing the Marine Corps, Fox News’ “The Kelly File” explained that under State Department orders, “crew served weapons were destroyed at the embassy, while Marines’ personal weapons were ‘rendered inoperable’ at the airport, and their destroyed components were left behind.”
“The Marine Corps does not dispute the reporting that CENTCOM is outraged over weapons being rendered inoperable,” added Fox News Insider.
Col. Warren said the Marines who left Yemen would remain in the region.
He also indicated that an undisclosed number of U.S. Special Operations troops were left behind in Yemen for “possible training” of the Yemeni security troops and counterterrorism missions.
An unidentified local member of the U.S. embassy staff told Reuters that armed Houthi rebels seized over 20 embassy vehicles from the Americans.
The Pentagon did not specifically say whether any weapons or the automobiles have ended up in the hands of Houthi rebels.
On Tuesday, prior to the U.S. embassy evacuation, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters that at the time DoD was still capable of conducting operations against terrorists in Yemen.
“We continue to conduct some training [of Yemeni security forces], and we continue to have the capability, unilaterally if need be, of conducting counter-terrorism operations inside Yemen,” he explained.
Maj. Avots told Breitbart News that Kirby’s comments “still stand.”
On Tuesday, Kirby did acknowledge, “There’s no question as a result of the political instability in Yemen that our counterterrorism capabilities have been…affected.”
“The Yemeni security forces and the [Houthi controlled] government to which they report is very much in flux right now,” he noted.
The U.S.-backed government in Yemen fell to the Houthi rebels in January.
In September, President Obama said that the counterterrorism operations in Yemen served as a model for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Prior to the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni government, the country had been a key U.S. ally in the fight against AQAP, which defense and intelligence officials say remains intent on attacking the U.S. homeland.
Although the Shiite Houthis and Sunni AQAP are described as archenemies, the Iran-backed group has expressed opposition to U.S. drone strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Nevertheless, the Shiite group has not made any attempts to deter the strikes.
The Pentagon is no stranger to the relationship between the Houthis and Iran, a Shiite majority country listed as a state-sponsor of terror by the United States.
“We know that there is a relationship between the Houthis and Tehran, and we’ve been very clear on multiple occasions about our concerns about the tentacles that Iran has throughout the region, specifically with support to groups and organizations that aren’t doing anything to increase stability in the region,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
The Houthis’ mantra, reports International Business Times, states: “God is the Greatest. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jew and Victory to Islam.”
Houthis “fiercely oppose” U.S. involvement in Yemen, adds the article.
“The rebels are reportedly backed by Iran regime and are hoping to gain support from countries whose policies often align with Iran’s, like Russia and China,” also reports IBT.