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Amphibious ships positioned closer to Yemen

Two amphibious ships moved into the Red Sea on Wednesday to be ready should U.S. officials order an evacuation in Yemen, a Navy official confirmed to Navy Times, as clashes intensify in the capital.

The amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and dock landing ship Fort McHenry, with embarked troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have not been tasked, but could aid in the event of an evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty said.

"Iwo Jima and Fort McHenry are there as part of normal operations," Flaherty said. "If there were an evacuation, that would be an option, that those two ships are there with the Marines and the MEU."

U.S.-backed Yemeni government troops clashed with Shiite rebels Monday near the presidential palace and a key military base, in what one official called "a step toward a coup." Also that day, a State Department vehicle carrying U.S. diplomatic personnel was shot at, CNN reported. The vehicle was at a checkpoint near the embassy, and there were no injuries, according to CNN.

Flaherty said there are no immediate plans to evacuate the embassy.

In addition to the Navy ships, a contingent of Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command have been augmenting security at the embassy for months, a Defense Department official told Marine Corps Times on Tuesday.

Numerous dangerous protests have erupted recently in Sanaa, prompting the State Department to issue warnings.

"The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest," reads the latest State Department travel advisory for Yemen, published in September. "The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart.

"The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures. In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats."

Staff writer James K. Sanborn contributed to this report.

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