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America in Retreat: Not Just a Metaphor Today

Iranian-backed Yemeni militia seizes U.S. vehicles, weapons as American personnel flee (Updated)

The evacuated U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen / AP
• February 11, 2015 11:58 am

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Yesterday the news broke that the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was shutting down its operations and evacuating American personnel under pressure from the Iranian-backed militia that has seized the capital, Sanaa. It appears that the evacuation is now complete, and that it was a disorderly affair in which U.S. vehicles were seized by the rebels, and Marines tasked with guarding diplomatic personnel were ordered to turn over their weapons to the Houthi gunmen at the airport. CNN reports:

Houthi rebels took all U.S. Embassy vehicles parked at the Yemeni capital's airport and wouldn't allow departing U.S. Marines to take their weapons with them, a top airport official in Sanaa said Wednesday.

The actions come after the United States, along with Britain, suspended operations at their respective embassies and moved out staffers because of the instability in the Arab nation.

According to the official, the Houthis seized many U.S. Marines' weapons at the airport and the American troops also handed over some to random airport officials.

Yemeni employees at the American Embassy in Sanaa also said that embassy officials burned tens of thousands of documents Tuesday night and destroyed weapons that were inside the embassy's storage warehouses.

Despite budget cuts, the U.S. military remains (for now) the most powerful fighting force on earth. We have the military capacity to secure and, if necessary, evacuate our embassies in an orderly—and an honorable—fashion. Trouble has been brewing in Sanaa for a long time now, and it is impossible that no one in the Obama administration could anticipate that there might be a need for an evacuation. Clearly, the White House and State Department chose not to exercise any of the available military options.

It appears that U.S. personnel are safe, and that is a good thing. It is not a good thing that, around the world, the enemies of the United States just got clear evidence of how easy it is to bully and humiliate diplomatically credentialed Americans with impunity—and in a country which, just months ago, President Obama was citing as an example of success in his effort to fight terrorism. More trouble will come from today's retreat.

Update, 8:30 A.M. Thursday, Feb. 12: The U.S. Marine Corps released a statement Wednesday night saying that all weapons left behind in Yemen had been rendered inoperable, and that no weapons had been "taken" or "handed…to a Houthi."