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Engel: US Military Officials Think Yemen Could Be New Syria

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reported that US military officials he had spoken to “think that Yemen is on the path to becoming a new Syria” on Monday’s “NewsNation” on MSNBC.

“I’ve spoke to US military officials who think that Yemen is on the path to becoming a new Syria. It is a sectarian war. We talk about the rebels versus the government. There is the fight that’s been going on for a long time, but has really been escalating over the last couple of months. And on the one side you have the government, which is a Sunni government, and the rebels who are Shi’a rebels, who are backed by Iran. So — you have to look at this as a Sunni-Shi’a fight, and as that Sunni-Shi’a fight is going on, you have ISIS stepping into the breach, and trying to expand its terrain, which is the same thing that is happening in Syria, where you have a larger Sunni-Shi’a fight and then ISIS moving into it, and same thing in Iraq, Sunni-Shi’a fight with ISIS taking ground” he said.

Engel added that the setbacks in Yemen were “quite significant…the main focus of the embassy has been to support drone strikes, to support counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda in Yemen, and other radical groups. And now that the diplomats are gone, now that special operations troops are gone, the US — is effectively blind on the ground in Yemen. You can still fly some drones or aircraft overhead, and certainly they have some intelligence assets on the ground that operate covertly, but you don’t have the kind of day-to-day contact that you would in the past. So, it is an enormous setback for counterterrorism effort[s].”

He concluded that the options facing the Obama administration are “not good options. The government, the government that is backed by the US, which is still internationally recognized, is trying to return to power, and trying to work out some sort of negotiated settlement with the rebels. It’s not working, they are actually fighting each other…so the best that the administration can hope for is that there’s some political reconciliation where the government either returns to power or returns to some power-sharing agreement, but we don’t seem to be seeing that right now.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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