The US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen came under rocket fire today, injuring two Yemeni guards at the compound and demonstrating that a recent UN-brokered peace agreement is going nowhere. The attack comes as rebels have taken control of major parts of the capital, while the government struggles to remain in place:
An unidentified attacker fired a rocket at Yemeni special police guarding the U.S. embassy in Sanaa on Saturday, police sources said, a day after the State Department told U.S. citizens to leave Yemen because of growing political unrest.
The rocket was fired from a car and landed 200 meters from the heavily fortified embassy, which lies in a compound surrounded by high walls in the capital. …
The attacker used a M72 light anti-tank weapon, a police source told Reuters.
The Times of Israel reports that al-Qaeda immediately claimed responsibility for the attack:
Al-Qaeda in Yemen reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
There was no immediate report of damage to the compound.
The incident came shortly after Yemeni rebels who have overrun the capital clashed with presidential guards Saturday as they ignored a demand to leave the city following a UN-brokered peace accord.
Fighting erupted overnight after the Huthi Shiite rebels tried to occupy the home of the national security chief, according to witnesses.
Two fighters were killed in the gunfight which lasted around three hours, while 15 others were wounded and a number of insurgents were captured by presidential guards, rebel sources said.
Hours earlier President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi had urged the rebels to leave the capital Sanaa, much of which they seized last week.
“Settling accounts by force and acts of vengeance will not build a state,” Hadi said.
Noah noted earlier this week that the Shi’ite rebellion had surprised everyone by seizing control of a majority of the capital. The US had worked with the government in Sana’a to attack al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, which is a Sunni extremist terror network. If al-Qaeda is operating in Sana’a, that suggests that either AQAP and the Shi’ites are partnering up, or that the situation has degraded so badly that both networks are openly vying for supremacy against each other and the government in the capital of Yemen. It could, however, just mean that AQAP took credit for an attack committed by the Huthi group.
Fox News reporter Adam Housely puts it well:
Our Embassy in Yemen is in the middle of a mess right now. Been bad for days since the peace agreement broke down
— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) September 27, 2014
This puts the White House in a tight spot regarding the fight with ISIS. More than once, the Obama administration has used Yemen as an example of success in their approach to fighting Islamist terrorist networks by using air power combined with local forces only. For instance, White House press secretary Josh Earnest made that argument in a press briefing less than two weeks ago:
MR. EARNEST: Jim, I can say definitively that the President has ruled out sending American boots on the ground to be engaged in a combat role in Iraq and in Syria. The strategy that the President has put forward to deal with the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria is substantially different from the strategy that was put in place in advance of the last conflict in Iraq.
What we’re considering here is more akin to the kinds of counterterrorism operations that have been successfully implemented in some other regions of the world. And those other countries, using some of our military capability, using our support for local fighters on the ground who could take the fight in their own country to the extremist organizations that are operating there, and building up the local government structures of some of these other nations — that that has been a successful strategy for mitigating the threat, and even degrading the threat that is posed by —
Q Where has that strategy been successful?
MR. EARNEST: Well, they’re places like —
Q Not Somalia or Yemen.
MR. EARNEST: Well, those are actually two of the countries that I was just going to cite. There is no doubt that in these two places the United States has deployed —
Q Somalia —
MR. EARNEST: Let me finish. That when the United States has deployed a strategy, that strategy has been specifically to work with local governments to build up the capacity of those central governments, to work with local fighters to make sure that we’re increasing their capacity so that they can take the fight on the ground to these extremist organizations, and, where necessary, American military might can be deployed in support of those fighters on the ground to degrade the capacity of those individual organizations.
And just a couple of weeks ago, we saw an effort in Somalia, led by Somalian fighters, to take out the leader of al-Shabaab in that country. That will have the effect of degrading and ultimately defeating al-Shabaab. Is that mission completed? Of course not. They continue to serve as a threat. But there is no doubt that this strategy has been successful.
Q You’re holding up those countries as success stories, though.
MR. EARNEST: What I’m holding them up as — as a place —
Q You’ve had some successes here and there, but you wouldn’t hold them up as success stories.
MR. EARNEST: They are a place where the American counterterrorism strategy that has been put in place by President Obama has succeeded in degrading the threat that those organizations pay to the United States. And we intend to implement an analogous strategy against ISIL.
So much for that success story. The US ordered American citizens out of Yemen and reduced the embassy staff yesterday, and it may need to do another evacuation as we just did in Tripoli after terror networks seized the capital in Libya. Their departure would take a large part of the White House’s credibility on fighting AQ and ISIS along with them.