Marines Surrender Weapons Before Yemen Evacuation

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 13, 2015

Yemen Context Map
(by Richard Sisk, Military .com) – U.S. Embassy Marines in Yemen handed over their M-9 pistols and M-4 carbines before evacuating the chaotic country with diplomatic personnel, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The Marines also left behind several vehicles at the airport in the capital city of Sanaa before departing on a civilian flight, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Warren said the Marines destroyed their machine guns and other crew-served weapons before leaving the Embassy for the airport. He also said that it was unclear who now had custody of the weapons and vehicles that were surrendered.

A Marine spokesman could not immediately say whether the surrender of weapons by Embassy Marines in an evacuation was unprecedented [never done or known before].

The Marines “destroyed their crew served weapons. They left their personal weapons behind,” Warren said, but he could not say whether the Houthi rebels who have taken over much of the country now had the weapons and vehicles left by the Marines.

A general view of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa

A general view of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa February 11, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Warren also could not say why a civilian charter flight was used rather than military aircraft for the evacuation. He suggested that the handover of weapons may have resulted from international rules barring weapons on a civilian flight.

The Embassy evacuation and the convoy to the airport was “orderly, uneventful and organized,” Warren said. The evacuation took place amid what Western reporters in Sanaa described as relative calm in the city despite protests for and against the [Iranian-backed] Houthis.

Warren declined to disclose the destination of the evacuation flight but said the Embassy Marines were remaining in the region. He also said that an undisclosed number U.S. Special Operations troops remained in Yemen for possible training of the crumbling Yemeni military and counter-terror missions.

The U.S., British and other embassies were closed and their personnel were evacuated as the Houthi rebels took over the country at the southern end of the Red Sea. France urged all of its citizens to leave Yemen and said the French Embassy would close on Friday.

Yemen_Feb-11-2014

Shiite Huthi fighters shout slogans as they drive in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on February 11, 2015 (Mohammed Huwais – AFP

The central government in Yemen collapsed in January following the Houthi takeover of Sanaa. Yemen’s government had been a U.S. ally in the fight against the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terror group.

The Houthis are also enemies of AQAP but have publicly expressed opposition to U.S. drone strikes against AQAP. However, the Houthis have as yet made no moves to stop the drone strikes. [Per CNN: “The Shi’ite Muslim Houthi rebels are enemies of AQAP (al Qaeda), a Sunni Islamist militant group. But they also oppose the U.S., a fact on display during rallies on January 23 in Sanaa, where thousands gathered with placards calling for “Death to America, Death to Israel.”]

— Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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Questions

1. What do we know about the U.S. Embassy Marines in Yemen? (What information was Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren able to relay?)

2. What was a Marine spokesman unable to tell reporters regarding the Marines’ surrender of weapons?

3. What information was Col. Warren unable to give? and – What question was he unable to answer?

4. What information did Col. Warren decline to disclose?

5. What additional information did he give about U.S. Special Ops troops?

6. For what reason did the U.S. (and British, French and other) Embassies close and evacuate their personnel from Yemen?


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Background

The U.S. embassy closure and the evacuation of embassy personnel came after the Houthi militia group – which overran Sanaa in September – formally took power last week. The Shi’ite Muslim group is stridently anti-American and is backed by Iran.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated that about 100 Marines made up the embassy contingent that left the country.

Asked whether the Marines turned over their weapons to Houthi fighters, Warren said: “It’s unclear, frankly. We believe they turned them over to government officials at the airport, prior to boarding the aircraft.”

“As everyone knows, weapons are generally not authorized on commercial aircraft,” Warren said. He said the Marines were probably carrying handguns and assault rifles until their departure.

Yemen, which borders oil giant Saudi Arabia, had long been at the forefront of the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda. But the long-standing diplomatic alliance between Washington and Sanaa appears to have been suspended with the United States.

France and Britain also closed their embassies on Wednesday due to security fears.

Despite the closure of the U.S. embassy, some American military personnel remain in the country conducting training operations with Yemeni military forces and “retain the capability to conduct counterterrorism operations if required,” Warren said.

Still, U.S. officials have privately acknowledged that the political upheaval has undermined their counterterrorism effort, including the collection of intelligence. (from Reuters.com)