US may evacuate Yemen embassy amid violence

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen is reportedly updating its evacuation plans due to increasing violence in the capital of Sana’a.

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There are no current plans to close the facility, but defense officials told CNN on Tuesday they are keeping a close eye on the embassy as violence has become "considerably worse" between government forces and Houthi rebels.

"We are poised to act if it becomes necessary to get people out," a defense official told CNN. "If you ask me do I think it's more likely now, the answer is 'yes.' "

The Houthis, Shiite rebels from the northern part of Yemen, seized Sana’a in September and have been clashing with government and tribal forces, as well as with local al Qaeda militants.

At least two airport security guards were killed after a clash at the Sana’a airport on Tuesday, forcing it to close for an hour, according to Reuters. Any closure of the airport would threaten U.S. personnel’s ability to evacuate.

Airport sources told Reuters that Houthis had been increasingly interfering in searches of passengers, including foreign travelers — confiscating alcohol and enforcing a travel ban on Yemeni government officials.

The violence comes three days after the formation of a new government, a process that began after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2012.

Under a power-sharing deal the Houthis signed with other major political parties, the Shiite rebels were supposed to start withdrawing from Sana’a after a new government was formed, but there are few indications that is happening.

The White House issued a statement on Friday welcoming the formation of a new cabinet in Yemen and commending the efforts of Yemeni leaders for coming together to form an inclusive government.

However, officials remained very concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Yemen.

Last week, Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, warned about the unrest in Yemen, saying the U.S. could lose a "key partner" in the fight against terrorism.

"Over the past several months we have seen the Houthis assert themselves in an effort to increase their leverage over the Yemeni government," he said at the Atlantic Council on Thursday.

At the same time, he said al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), "has increased its attacks, both against the government and against the Houthis. And this is also cause for significant concern."

"Needless to say, the Yemeni government is under enormous pressure from multiple fronts. And we're in danger of losing a key partner in our counterterrorism fight," he said.

"And so we must do what we can to continue to help President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and the government to stabilize and reassert control," he said.

Yemen's relatively peaceful government transition after Saleh's departure had been considered a success story in the turmoil following the Arab Spring, where countries across the Middle East, including Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Libya, all saw violent revolutions.

President Obama had touted U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen as a successful model for its war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground," he said on Sept. 10, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.

"This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years," he said.

AQAP is considered al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate. Last weekend, it claimed it planted two explosive devices at Hadi's residence to target U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller, CNN reported.