The United States has been forced to halt some counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda in Yemen following the collapse of the government and the rise of Shi’ite rebels, Reuters and The Washington Post reported Saturday.
The concerns come after the abrupt resignation Thursday of Yemen’s U.S.-backed president, prime minister and cabinet following armed unrest led by Iran-backed Houthi rebels who surrounded official buildings in the capital, Sanaa.
Some fear the Arab world's poorest country is veering toward civil war – a setback for Washington’s fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a key wing of the terror network. The U.S. has killed dozens of suspected AQAP fighters and leaders with drone strikes in the country.
The collapse of the government has left America's counter-terrorism campaign "paralyzed", two U.S. security officials told Reuters.
Many U.S. personnel work with Yemeni forces at the southern al-Annad airbase, an intelligence post for monitoring which claimed responsibility for attacks this month in Paris that killed 17 people.
“The chaos has aided al-Qaeda,” a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post. “There’s no question in our mind that al-Qaeda has gotten a breather.”
The official said armed drones operated by the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command remain deployed for now over southern Yemen, where AQAP is based, but that Yemeni security services helping that U.S. air campaign are now controlled by the Houthis,
"The agencies we worked with ... are really under the thumb of the Houthis. Our ability to work with them is not there," the senior U.S. official told the newspaper.
Neither report could be independently confirmed by NBC News.
White House spokesman Alistair Baskey told the Washington Post that “the political instability in Yemen has not forced us to suspend counter-terrorism operations."
Meanwhile, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets Saturday in the biggest demonstration yet against the Houthis. Witnesses said up to 10,000 people began marching from Sanaa University towards Hadi's home some 1.8 miles away, repeating chants denouncing both the Houthi group and al Qaeda.
- Yemen Official: Country In an 'Extremely Dangerous Moment'
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- Alastair Jamieson
Reuters contributed to this report.