Shiite Houthi fighters took over a special forces base from U.S.-trained and equipped troops in Yemen’s capital and a Yemeni coast guard station on the Red Sea on Wednesday.
The Pentagon asserts that it can still conduct counterterrorism (CT) operations inside Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most potent and powerful arm of the jihadist franchise, has been the target of U.S. counterterrorism operations in the Arab nation.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in Yemen and maintain positive relations with the Yemeni military forces,” U.S. Maj. Bradlee Avots, a Pentagon spokesman, told Breitbart News. “We continue to have the capability of conducting CT operations inside Yemen.”
The spokesman would not say if the Pentagon is concerned about the Houthis taking over military camps in Yemen or whether the U.S. military plans to take action against the Shiite rebels, who critics say are supported by Iran.
A senior U.S. official quoted by The Washington Post on January 23 indicated that the Obama administration is open to counterterrorism dialogue with Houthi leaders.
On January 7, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. was participating in “discussions” with the Houthis.
“While the Houthis oppose al-Qaida, they also are hostile to the U.S. and critics say Shiite power Iran backs their territorial gains — something the rebels deny,” reported The Associated Press on February 7.
On Wednesday, Yemeni soldiers told Reuters that the clashes at the military base in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, “started late on Tuesday when the Houthis shelled the camp with heavy weapons.”
The battle lasted nearly six hours. At least 10 people were killed.
Military sources also told Reuters that the Yemeni forces at the base in Sanaa were trained and equipped by the U.S. “as an elite counterterrorism unit during the rule of ex-president Ali Abullah Saleh, who was ousted by Arab Spring protests in 2011.”
Houthi rebels also took over the Coast Guard post in the port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday. There was moderate fire involved, but there were no confirmed casualties as of Wednesday.
Amid the political chaos and deteriorating security conditions, the Pentagon has reportedly lost its ability to account for the weapons and equipment it has sent to Yemen.
Reuters reports that some of the Yemeni military’s “most powerful units” are loyal to the Houthis.
“Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Sanaa on Wednesday to denounce Houthi rule,” states the article. “Security forces loyal to the group dispersed some of the crowds with tear gas and gunshots fired into the air.”
Houthi militants took control of Sanaa in September 2014, eventually seizing U.S.-backed government buildings including the presidential palace in January.
Days after the Houthi rebels overtook the presidential palace, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post, “We’re not against the Houthi movement.”
This week, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to Aden, a southern port city, where he is “seeking to set up a rival power center with loyalist army units and tribes,” Reuters reports.
AQAP is expected to benefit from the political turmoil that has plagued the country since the Houthis ousted the U.S.-backed government in Yemen.
The CIA has reportedly intensified drone strikes at killing suspected terrorists in Yemen.
“U.S. officials have expressed concern that the rule of the resolutely anti-American Shi’ite Muslim Houthis will harm their counterterrorism efforts in a country that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter,” reports Reuters.
Political sources cited by Reuters said, “Yemen’s Sunni Gulf neighbors have decried the Houthi takeover as a coup, and the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council Abdullatif al-Zayyani arrived in Aden to meet Hadi on Wednesday.”