Yemen's Rebels Hold US-Backed President "Captive" In His House. Seize Country's Largest Ballistic Missile Base

As reported yesterday, Yemen became the latest foreign policy "success" story of the US after the local minority of Iran-friendly Shi'ite Houthi militiamen stormed, and captured, the presidential palane. At the same the whereabouts of Yemen's US-backed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi were unknown. Moments ago we learned about his current location: according to AP, "two Yemeni presidential advisers say the Shiite rebels who are on a power grab campaign in the capital, Sanaa, are holding the president "captive" at his home, a day after seizing the presidential palace.

More from AP: "The advisers say President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi "cannot leave his house" after the Houthi rebels removed his guards and deployed their own fighters at the premises on Wednesday.

One of the advisers says the situation in Yemen has reached the "point of no return," that the military is in shambles while the country's security apparatus has been "crippled" after the Houthis' blitz.

 

The two advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media.

As a reminder, this is what the president claimed in September regarding the state of US intervention in Yemen: "the 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."

Meanwhile, this is what "successful" US strategy in Yemen has led to:

Yemen's Shiite rebels pressed ahead on Wednesday with their power grab in the capital, Sanaa, capturing a military base housing ballistic missiles that overlooks the city and posting guards outside the president's home, a day after raiding the presidential palace.

 

The Houthi rebels, who are trying to carve a greater share of power for their group, also issued fresh demands Wednesday, asking for the post of vice president and several key government offices.

 

The developments further erode the standing of U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was unharmed during the shelling of his neighborhood Tuesday and remained inside his house. The embattled Hadi appears to have run out of options amid the Houthis' blitz, which has raised uncertainty over who is in control in Yemen and also concerns that al-Qaida's Yemen branch could profit from the power vacuum.

 

Early Wednesday, the Houthis seized the country's largest missile base on a hilltop above Sanaa, consolidating their grip over the city, which they seized in September after spreading out from their strongholds in the north.

And for those who care, here is the Houthis' side of the story: according to Reuters, "Yemen's minority Shi'ite Houthi fighters took up guard at President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's home on Wednesday but said they had not toppled him, after two days of fighting which left little doubt that the enfeebled leader was now at their mercy.

The Houthis, friendly to Iran, swept into the capital four months ago and have emerged as the dominant force in the country. For now at least they appear to have decided to stop short of overthrowing Hadi, possibly preferring to exert control over a weakened leader rather than take on the burden of power.

 

Their defeat of the presidential guards in gunbattles and artillery duels in recent days adds to disarray in a country where the United States is also carrying out drone strikes against one of the most powerful branches of al Qaeda.

 

After clashes at the president's office and home on Tuesday, the Houthis' leader threatened in a speech overnight to take further "measures" unless Hadi bows to his demand for constitutional changes that would increase Houthi power. By early morning on Wednesday, Houthi fighters, accompanied by an armored vehicle, had replaced the guards at the president's residence. Presidential guard sentry posts were initially empty, however a few guards later appeared and were permitted to take up positions.

 

"President Hadi is still in his home. There is no problem, he can leave," Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Reuters.

Maybe, but not without bullet holes in his back? 

Finally, for those who are new to this latest conflict hotspot, here is the background:

Yemeni military sources said the Houthis also seized the military aviation college located close to Hadi's home, and the main missile base in Sanaa, without a fight. In the south of the country, Hadi's home region, local officials denounced what they called a coup against him and shut the air and sea ports of the south's main city, Aden.

 

Yemen, an impoverished nation of 25 million, has been plagued by Islamist insurgency, separatist conflict, sectarian strife and economic crisis for years. An "Arab Spring" popular uprising in 2011 led to the downfall of long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, bringing more chaos.

 

The Houthis, rebels from the north drawn from a large Shi'ite minority that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, stormed into the capital in September but had mostly held back from directly challenging Hadi until last week, when they detained his chief of staff.

 

They accuse the president of seeking to bypass a power-sharing deal signed when they seized Sanaa in September, and say they are also working to protect state institutions from corrupt civil servants and officers trying to plunder state property.

 

Houthi fighters battled guards at Hadi's home and entered the presidential palace on Tuesday. In his televised speech that followed, the group's leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned Hadi that he had to implement the power-sharing deal.

 

"We ... will not hesitate to impose any necessary measures to implement the peace and partnership agreement," said Abdel-Malek, whose Shi'ite Muslim group is widely seen as an ally of Iran in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia.

 

"All the options are open and without exception and the ceiling is very, very high. And this is why, I here advise the president ... Implement this deal. It is for your benefit and for the benefit of your people," he said on live television.

 

The accord gives the Shi'ite Muslim group, which takes its name from the family of its leader, a role in all military and civil state bodies. The Houthis also demand changes to the divisions of regional power in a draft constitution. Their decision to stop short of toppling Hadi, an ally of the West and supporter of U.S. drone strikes, may be intended to keep regional Sunni Muslim states and the United States from rallying against them.

 

A government source told Reuters: “They know that if they bring about the downfall of the president, they won’t be able to rule the country, because Western and neighboring countries will gang on up on them, as well as other provinces that are not under their control.”

 

Abdel-Malek's speech left little doubt however that his movement was now in effective control of the country. Al Masdar newspaper referred to him as "the president's president".

And with yet another international US "success story" literally up in flames, next steps include the US abandoning yet another embassy on foreign soil having fully alienated the locals, much to the delight of Dianne Feinstein.

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